This is one in a series of interesting interviews released by USATF:
INDIANAPOLIS – USA Track & Field on Tuesday announced that Dan O'Brien, Lynn Jennings, Kevin Young, Ollan Cassell, Rex Cawley and Bill Nieder will be inducted in the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.
Q: What were your thoughts when you found out that you had been elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame?
A: It was a fantastic moment. I never dreamt that I'd be in it after what I pulled at the Australian Olympics years ago (Melbourne, 1956) where we got into a bunch of trouble. They must've all passed away by now, so it's new blood in there (laughter).
Q: What happened in Australia where you got into trouble?
A: We had a few totties after the Games and one of the taxis in town almost ran into me and he backed up and he called us some names, and we said he shouldn't have done that and we turned his car upside down, and that was not a good thing. Then we decided to go for a swim and went right across the street into the ocean, and when we came back out cameramen were there and photographers, and there we were on the front page of the newspaper the next morning with the headline "Americans Throw Wild Orgy at Beach." Well it wasn't that bad, but they made it up to be a big thing.
Q: What kind of a backlash did you get from that?
A:Quite a bit. I was told that would be my last Olympics. They felt thatI was the ringleader but I wasn't. I was part of the group (laughter).
Q: How did you get started in the sport?
A: I pretty much went out for track and field to stay in shape forfootball. I was going to be a javelin thrower or a high jumper at thetime. I could jump about 43 inches off the floor and I thought I couldbe a good high jumper, but I could only jump six feet. One day I pickedup the shot and on my first attempt I threw it about 44 feet. Fromthere, at the end of that school year, which was my junior year (atLawrence, Kans. HS), I'd thrown it 58 feet, and the next year as asenior I broke the national record with a toss of over 60 feet.
Q: You endured a serious knee injury as a football player at theUniversity of Kansas. Did that cause you to focus more on throwing?
A: That's correct. In high school I was the first All-American to be intwo sports, track and field and football. Football was my main sport atthe time. In my very first game against TCU I was blindsided andsevered or tore three major ligaments in my knee and after the surgeryI woke up with a body cast from my shoulders to my toes. I was told bythe doctor at the time that my athletic career was over. But Kansas hadsome good trainers and they worked on me and everything turned outfine, and little by little I was able to come back.
Q: Backthen you had to compete against two other National Track & FieldHall of Famers, Dallas Long and Parry O'Brien. Did competing againstthose guys consistently cause you to be a better shot putter?
A: Absolutely. In my first track meet in 1960 I broke the world recordand I was asked by the reporters at the time how much further did Ithink I could throw. I said at my next meet I'd throw two feet further,and that was at the Texas Relays. So I went down there and did it andParry O'Brien said it was a cow pasture performance, insinuating thatthe Texas Relays was a low-class meet with no real competition. Icouldn't believe he said that. The very next week the reporters were onme about O'Brien's statement, and I said 'by the way, where is thatL.A. dodger, I'm not referring to baseball, but that so called championthat battles old men and women. Any time there's a real battle he's theone that hides.' That started a major feud between us, and then I thinkit was the next week after that at the Kansas Relays, and they hadanother meet in Southern California and O'Brien came back with 'who'sdodging who? Nieder was supposed to be here and he's run off to Kansasto hide.' Right after that I was in the U.S. Army as an officer and Ihad a track meet on the east coast and one of the reporters told me Iwas in real trouble. When I asked why he said that O'Brien had thrown63 feet in practice. I said that's a real good throw. He then said thatif O'Brien was throwing that far in practice that means that he'llcertainly break my record the next time out. I told him you'reabsolutely right. Then I asked him if he had a pencil. He said 'what?'And I said 'you want a quote, don't ya.' He said yes. I said that ifO'Brien threw 63 feet in practice, and I'm not doubting whether he didor not, but if he did it had to have been down hill and off a cliff!(laughter). This kept us pretty active in the sports pages during thatperiod of time.
Q: Did you guys have fun going back and forth with those comments or was there any real resentment towards each other?
A: No, I think it was more in fun. O'Brien would never talk to hiscompetitors. He was always meditating, or one thing or another. Irecall that when I threw far enough in the Olympics to beat him I had acowboy hat on and a towel around my neck and I threw my towel at himand said, 'okay sucker, lights out – we have a new Olympic champion'(laughter). It was fun.
Q: You set the world record numerous times. What's it like to know you were the best in the world at what you do?
A: It was fantastic. However my very last one was the best by farbecause I wasn't on the Olympic Team. I qualified fourth and they onlytake three. A few weeks before I went water skiing for the first timein my life and took a nasty fall and twisted my knee and wasn't up totop form at the Trials. I was ready to quit and throw in the towel whenPayton Jordan of Stanford called to say that anything could happen andto keep on trying. There were three more track meets before the teamwent to the Olympics in Rome and anything could happen. Sure enough Iwon the first two track meets, and in the third one I broke the worldrecord again and was told by the officials that I wasn't on the team,but they wanted my phone number in the event something did happen theycould call me. At 3 o'clock that same morning they called and said Iwas on the team and that was the most fantastic experience I've everhad in my life knowing that I was back on the team, and knowing that Iwas going to the Olympics where I eventually won the gold medal.
Q: Was it personally fulfilling to win the gold medal?
A: Not only that, but it opened all kinds of doors with jobopportunities. I went to work with 3M and started the artificialfootball field business for them, and they also had a product calledTartan, which was a synthetic composition that replaced cinders and itwas much faster than the old cinder track. I sold it to a number ofcolleges and then I was told to go to Mexico City and try to sell it tothe Olympics and I came back with the first Olympic Games synthetictrack order.
Q: How long did you stay with 3M?
A: Ten years. Then I went into business for myself doing the samething. One day I woke up and thought there must be an easier way, so Iinvented a rubber room, the padded rooms, seclusion rooms, that type ofthing. All I had to do was come up with a formulation that it couldn'tsmoke too much and it couldn't burn. After weeks of working on it Icame up with the idea of how to do it. We were number one in thecountry installing padded rooms for people who are mentally ill and outof control after the police pick them up. They are also being installedin schools for time out rooms and athletic stadiums for people whodrink too much and get themselves in trouble. I retired about a yearand a half ago. I'm relaxing and playing a lot of golf and having a lotof fun with life.