Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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TWO OF THE GREATEST OLYMPIC THROWERS - JANIS LUSIS and AL OERTER (JUNE 2012)

JANIS LUSIS

Born, 19th of May, 1939 in Jelgava Latvia but competed for USSR in the Javelin.
His wife Elvira Ozolina was the Women's Olympic javelin Champion for the USSR in 1960 (Olympic Record of 55'98 in Rome) and their son Valdemars Lusis competed in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Latvia. Janis himself has enjoyed some World Veteran competitions since he retired from international competition as a young man and is a good coach as you would expect.

   Obviously in recent years Janz Zelezny has been recognised as the best competitive javelin thrower of all time, having won the Olympic javelin title in 1992, 1996, and 2000 plus gaining a silver in 1988. Steve Backley has been the outstanding UK performer with two Olympic silver medals and a bronze medal plus four European Gold's.
   Dave Ottley the UK thrower who gained an Olympic silver medal in LA, 1984, behind Arto Harkonen of Finland, as well as gaining a Commonwealth Gold in 1986. He was inspired by one man in particular, as he told me at the time
" To me it's Janis Lusis without a doubt, as he won the Olympic title the year I started out in 1968 with the javelin. He has inspired me ever since, as he had done just about everything. Gold, silver and bronze in the Olympics. I have not modelled my technique on him, but I like his attitude, his competitive spirit, a very good character and a real gentleman. It was a dream come true when I met him because he is such a nice bloke."
   1968 Olympic Final in Mexico First 8:- 1 Janis Lusis URS) 90.10 Olympic Record; 2 Jorma Kinnunen (Finland) 88.58; 3 Gergely Kulcsar (HUN) 87.06; 4 Wladislaw Nikiciuk (POL) 85.70; 5 Manfred Stolle (GDR) 84.42; 6 Ake Nilsson (SWE) 83.48; 7 Janus Sidlo (POL) 80.58, 8 Urs von Wartburg (SUI) 80.56. (Urs Von Wartburg in 1979 set a World Masters M40 record of 78.98 in Hannover in the world Masters Championships)
   1972 Olympic Final in Munich First Four:- 1 Klaus Wolfermann (FRG) 90.48 Olympic Record (In fifth penultimate round) , 2 Janis Lusis (URS) 90.46 (In Final round); 3 Bill Schmidt (USA) 84.42; 3 Hannu Siitonen (Finland) 84.32.
   Before those was the Tokyo Olympic Final in 1964 when Janis Lusis gained his first Olympic medal
First Six 1 Pauli Nevala (FIN) 82.66; 2 Geregely Kulcsar (HUN) 82.32; 3 Janis Lusis (URS) 80.57; 4 Janusz Sidlo (POL) 80.17; 5 Urs von Wartburg (SUI) 78.72; 6 Jorma Kinnunen (FIN) 76.94.
   It was at a Lancaster Gate hotel in London, in the Summer of 1966 that I talked to Janis and he spoke about that 1964 Olympic Javelin competition and his third spot
   " I thought I might have put myself right out of the Tokyo Olympics when, some three months before, after a long practise session of about 30 throws, I missed direction slightly, and threw badly, pulling my shoulder muscles. Then again, in Nemenskiy competitions, I did it again. However, when Tokyo  came along I had recovered sufficiently to reach 80.57/264'4 in third position. This recovery was due only, I think, because of my excellent overall physical condition. In training in Tokyo, I had only  been able to reach out to around 79 metres.'
   ' Last year in 1965 I was in good  condition all the year round; I did over 85.00 metres on four occasions, and established a new Soviet record with 86.56/284'0 at Tiflis, in October. I also beat the best in the World at Oslo, and that included Kinnunen and Sidlo."

THE START
"As far as I can remember, it was in 1957 when, at the age of 18, I first took a serious interest in track and field athletics. At the time I was a pupil at a secondary school in Kandava Latvia. Until 1957 then, although I tackled most sports, and the three jumps on the athletic side (long jump best then of 5.70/18' 81/2 , triple jump and high jump), I held no great interest in anything particular, and certainly not the javelin as I had never thrown it!
   ' My first javelin competition in fact was in August 1957 in the Soviet Schoolboys' Championship at Riga. I threw in the group 17-18 years and, to my surprise, I won the competition with a throw of just 44.50/146ft plus. Soon after, I was admitted as a student to the Latvian Physical Culture Institute.'
   ' After winning that Riga competition, I met and talked with the Latvian javelin champion- His best was 67.90/223ft and he said that 'I would never make a good javelin thrower'. This was probably the turning point as far as my performances were concerned. Then and there I made up my mind to prove him wrong and, within two years I was throwing much further than him. He did I must admit, give me plenty of advice in the technique of throwing the javelin, but I started in 1957 with the man who in fact was my coach right through to today Valentin Mazzalatis. It was he who, after a long discourse on track and field athletics, suggested I concentrate on the javelin at the expense of long jumping, which was probably the event that took more of my interest at the time.'Janis did 7.22m/23''81/2
   ' In 1961, with my 81.01 throw, I took third place in the U.S.S.R Championships.'
'Probably even today (IN 1966) the performance which gives me most satisfaction is my 86.04 in 1962, when I established a U.S.S.R record again in Tashkent and also became European Champion.'
   At the time of the interview Lusis was an Army Officer in Riga. As a physical educationalist he spent his time training others to develop a wide outlook on sport at their Soviet army school of Physical  Education..
He likes to read a great deal ' I enjoy Galsworthy, Tolstoy, and read quite a lot by Jack London'
He also enjoys the cinema and theater'
 ' One of the things I like most about track and field is the spirit of the competitors, both great and small. It is indeed wonderful to be able to meet athletes all over the world, and talk freely about the one thing we have in common. Even though they have different ways of achieving success, in the long run we are all out for the same ends: the enjoyment of competition with athletes from many countries; personal betterment; a wider understanding of the event and of the people who partake in the same sport as one self."

AL OERTER

THE FIRST ATHLETE TO ACHIEVE FOUR CONSECUTIVE OLYMPIC CROWNS

   Al Oerter, was born in Astoria Queens, New York City, 19th of September 1936. He died on the 1st of October 2007. He was not just a 'Great Olympian' but an interesting man to talk to who enjoyed painting, writing and life generally. That was something  I realised when I talked to him at the Quuens Hotel, Crystal Palace in 1981.He spoke in a well measured way about the sport he loved.. He raised a family and has two daughters.
   First of all lets us look at some statistics regarding his discus results:-
   His World discus records were in 1962- 61.10m (First man over 200feet--His throw 200''5); 1963- 62.62 and in 1964 62.94 (According to the famous statistician Mel Watman)
   The amazing thing was at the age of 43 he threw his best mark of 69.46 which ranked him second in the World overall that year in 1980.The distance is still a Maters World All time Best for 40-44 on the books in  2012 and also for a 45-49 year old he has thrown the 2k discus 67.90 also and  'All time Masters Age Best ' for 45-49
For the 50 to 55 Category he has the second best throw ever with 65.30 (1.5kg).
He was Masters World Champion in 1977 at Gothenburg beating Ludvik Danek in the process.
   Now for the Olympic Games and the Medallists:
   Melbourne 27th of November 1956:- 1 Al Oeter (USA) 56.36 Olympic Record; 2 Fortune Gordien (USA) 54.81; 3 Des Koch (USA) 54.40 (Mark Pharaoh of GB was fourth with 54.27). Al was 20 years old when he won that crown.
   Rome 7th of September 1960:- 1 Al Oeter (USA) 59.18 Olympic Record; 2 " Rink" Babka (USA) 58.02; 3 Dick Cochran (USA) 57.16
   Tokyo 15th of October 1964:- 1 Al Oerter (USA) 61.00 Olympic Record; 2 Ludvik Danek (TCH) 60.52; 3 David Weill (USA) 59.46 (4th was Jay Silvester USA with 59.09) - It was not till the fifth of six rounds that Al Oerter took himself into a medal position! The reason was he was strapped up, as he had torn a cartilage in his ribs in practise, shortly before competing but somehow he summoned up everything he could for one descent throw, despite terrible pain and hurled his discus 61.00 metres. He had had a neck injury earlier and, he was not really sure he could perform at all but then one is talking about a man who had put 'Mind over Matter' for a 'Super Human effort!.
   Mexico City, 15th of October 1968:- 1 Al Oerter (USA) 64.78 Olympic Record; 2 Lothar Milde (GDR) 63.08; 3 Ludvik Danek (The 1972 Olympic Champion) 62.92.
   Which of those four Olympic titles stand out the most for Al Oerter one may wonder!
    "They are all so different. The first one was more unexpected. The second one was perhaps the most difficult because I expected to win and I had placed myself in a position of complete confidence and, when something went wrong in the competition, it  was very difficult to recover my composure to go on to compete successfully. The third was the most difficult physically because of injuries I sustained in Tokyo- I pulled quite a bit of cartilage off my rib cage and so it was very difficult to compete. The fourth was, I guess, the most satisfying because the World record at that time was some 17 feet beyond my best throw of the year and there I was in the competition with that same thrower and two others who I think, at the time, had already set world records in that one year. So, I was not expected to do anything but I was absolutely confident that I would be successful and receive some kind of medal.
   To start with I had never expected to win a gold medal but in the last competition (1968) I knew absolutely I would be at my best and it was satisfying from the standpoint that I had put together a very long programme spanning several years that worked. I was able to develop the plan first and then adapt it to whatever the circumstance was--injuries, increased levels of strength, throwing difficulties or whatever. It was that whole plan seemed to work and I peaked on that one day, and that was the Olympic competition, which was very satisfying."
   What brought Al Oerter into discus throwing
"I competed in baseball and American football because of my size, and I could throw a ball very hard. I entered track and field after a football season and I was attracted to the individual aspect--I found it interesting as the result you obtained was through your individual effort, not a composite effort of eight, or ten or twelve members of a team where the individual effort really, not known. With track and field you put it on the line and that I enjoy. I enjoy testing myself for myself."
   Outside of the Olympics could he recall a particular occasion when everything seemed to fit into place to make an enjoyable and invigorating competition?
   " I remember so many BUT the only trophy I have ever kept in my return to athletics was in 1976. It was a little competition in Massachusetts where I was travelling with a friend. We saw a sign posted up pointing to a High School field saying there that evening there would be a track and field meet and those wishing to compete should show up at 6'0'clock .The cost would be 50 cents. We stayed around and I paid my 50 cents. Somebody loaned me a discus and I just happened to have some jogging shoes: I used them and threw something like 181 feet (About 55m), winning the competition. I won my little trophy for my 50 cents and it was one of the first feelings I had of what track and field was really about for me! The whole thing just happened. I just happened to drive by the High School that had the advertisement up, I just happened to find somebody who would loan me a discus. It was not the Olympics that were the important thing in this sport any longer. I really enjoyed that evening of competing with a gathering of people who wanted to throw as far as they could  possibly throw, enjoy the competition and try to encourage one another to throw further. It was a country fair kind of environment which I totally enjoyed."
Even though he achieved so much, he still went into veterans athletics without reservation, mixing it with open competitions so, was 40 a  physical barrier for him
  " No, because when I decided to go back into competition I was determined to become as good as I possibly could and compete both in open competition and Veterans (or Masters as it was known in the United States). When I went into my first Veteran Championship in the United States the question was not 'Who wasn't there' but 'why weren't they there' . I competed against perhaps one Olympian in the entire competition and he was a decathlete. It was an environment that many athletes found hostile. They could not conceive of the thought of competing at a lower level than what they were used to. Evidently athletes have this sense of retiring at the peak of their form and to accept anything less is very, very difficult.
   But why weren't they out there, enjoying something that they had enjoyed for so long? Because that enjoyment was never really  there. They found that the training regimen was very difficult It was a forced environment because of coaches and physisicians keeping them in some kind of form, when they really preferred to rest when they were injured. It became a difficult thing for them to get back into Masters competition in a way that was comfortable for them. However, I had always enjoyed it and nobody has ever forced me to do anything in my life. I could certainly accept a level of competition that was well below what I experienced in all of the Olympics that I had been at, so it became a natural thing for me to just start.
  ' Hopefully everyone enjoys the competition for just what it is, which is a testing of one's capabilities. I have seen people at Masters events in the United States from ' I can run a mile, 5 or 10k; it's wonderful if I can do that' to ' ' I wonder how fast I can run a mile, 5 or 10k.' People are beginning to train and that is providing a different avenue in their lives. For the first time they are testing  themselves to see how much they can improve and that is important. I am sure when I was in my twenties and thirties I established barriers that I mentally could not go beyond and I thought I could not become stronger or throw further or work with more intensity than I would be able to have in my forties and I am improving. I had the best result of my life at the age of 43!"

Alastair Aitken

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