What would be your initial reaction if I boasted that years ago I used to hang out with a man who, arguably, was the greatest athlete in the world?
The school year of 1969-1970 was the first year for Warren County High School, located in Warren County, Tenn.
I was a junior that year and had the late, highly respected John Brock as a physical education teacher.
Walking the hallways between classes, I kept hearing students talking about this “new student P.E. teacher.” And it was as though they were talking about someone who didn’t belong amongst mere mortal men: “Vinson, you’ve got to see our new student P.E. teacher;” “I never saw such a man in all my life;” and “He looks like Thor, the Norse god of strength.”
One thing you must remember is this was almost 45 years ago, and a man who was, say, 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds was considered a great big man.
It was one fall day, 1969, and I was up in the bleachers of the original Warren County Senior High gym (now Warren County Middle School).
Out on the basketball court, shooting layups underneath the basket, alone, was a male specimen, the likes of which I’d never seen: long, shaggy hair, about 6 feet and 5 inches tall, around 250 pounds, his physique appearing to have been carved out of rock.
Thinking he was too heavy to actually pull it off, I mockingly hollered, “Dunk it.”
He looked up at me and, as though propelled by a trampoline, lifted off the ground and easily threw down an impressive two-handed jam!
I thought, “Wow, big, bulky white guys can’t do that.”
And, folks, such was my first encounter with one Brian Oldfield, not only a Tennessee sports legend, but, ultimately, an international sports legend, as well.
An alumnus of MTSU, Oldfield won the Ohio Valley Conference shot put championship three times. (He also competed in the discus and javelin throwing events for MTSU.)
I remember, one day after P.E. class, Oldfield, who was a gregarious rebel – his own man – saying something to the effect of, “When I get out of school, quit partying, and start really training, I’ll set a world record in the shot put.”
Indeed, Oldfield made the 1972 Olympic team; however, he finished a disappointing sixth.
Less than a year later, though, he set his first world record in the shot put with a throw of 70 feet and 10 1/2 inches.
In 1975, Oldfield stunned the track and field world with a near-mythical throw of 75 feet, the 75-foot mark having been deemed unattainable at the time. Even today it ranks fourth all-time.
This superhuman feat landed Oldfield on the cover of the Sept. 1, 1975, edition of “Sports Illustrated.”
Worth noting is, during the early ‘70s, Oldfield competed in the Scottish Highland Games, setting several records in the “Stone Put.” His throw of 63 feet and 2 inches in the “Light Stone,” in the 1973 Games, remains a world record. Still, Oldfield competed in the 1978 World’s Strongest Man contest, finishing seventh out of 10 contestants.
Even more amazing, Oldfield, at his colossal size, is reported to have run the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds and to have high jumped 6 feet and 5 inches. One thing I can attest to is that no one in our P.E. class ever beat Oldfield in a sprint race.
Brian Oldfield was inducted into the MTSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.
Was I fortunate enough to hang out with the “world’s greatest athlete?”
It’s a matter of opinion, I suppose, but I challenge you to come up with anyone else his size, from that era, who could measure up athletically.
(NOTE: Oldfield’s shot put records were the subject of considerable controversy because he had been affiliated with a professional track and field club.)