College Years and My Twenties

This section contains a storyline about my British university and athletics beyond college, covering throwing, Olympic weightlifting and highland games. For a quick view on my 2K discus progression feel free to scroll down and review the inserted table.

My transition into the senior open ranks of athletics was smooth. From the age of sixteen I was already competing in the North of England Championships and the Inter-counties Championship, the latter was National competition in the spring and by seventeen was in the AAA’s National Championship. I remember one Manchester newspaper headline along the lines of Guy Dirkin beats Olympian Jeff Teal.  Jeff was a very strong, burly, coal miner who was a 18M/60 ft+ shot putter and not really a discus thrower, so that was pretty unfair. By seventeen, I was in the best of the rest group, one down from the top discus throwers. It was good for me to compete in these big competitions, as there was never an abrupt transition from junior to senior ranks.

I went to Loughborough Colleges for my undergraduate education. Loughborough was a highly regarded College that trained physical education teachers. In 1977 Loughborough Colleges unified with Loughborough University. Today, Loughborough Universities Sport Science Department is the number one sports science program in the world. Loughborough has a long tradition of sporting excellence across all sports and parasports. Loughborough’s current and past students are a who’s who of sporting legends, Olympians and sports administrators. For example, one of my Towers residence hall floor mates was Dave Moorcroft who went on to break the world 5000M world record and head up British athletics. Sebastian Coe, would show up in the weight room once in a while.  He was unusually strong for a wiry runner.

 When I arrived at Loughborough, I was 19 years old, weighing about 14 stone/ 195 lbs / 89K.  By the middle of my first year, I was up to around 210 lbs / 95 kg. To gain weight, I got a medical note from the doctor so that I could get double rations of the main protein offering in the college cafeteria attached to our residence hall, The Towers. The cafeteria was officially called the Towers Refectory. The food was not that good or that healthy. My friend Ashe Towe, would sit with me and make me eat, sometimes to the point of feeling really sick. Eating, took a lot of time.  Time that had to be set aside. As I got bigger, I also added four to five pints of whole milk which I drank in the evening. The running coach, George Gandy, had the milk delivered to his faculty bungalow close to the Towers and I would pick it up each day. Eventually, I got to about 235 lbs / 107 kg. I think one day I managed to get just to 17 stone. Even with all this eating I still had a six pack.  My main complaint was that my legs were so big relative to the width of my pelvis, that I had to swing my legs out and around the other, constantly chaffing the skin between my thighs.  This was just par for the course; most throwers and weightlifters had the same issue.  Buying jeans was awful, I had a small waist, but had to buy jeans with a 42-inch waist and belt in the extra eight inches of slack.  Fortunately, in the mid-1970’s tube leg jeans emerged, that had a lot more cloth in the legs, so that they pretty much fit my waist. I have said to people that I was big once, weighing 235 lbs. Many times, the response was: “well, that’s not that big”.  When I moved to America, one of the linebackers was about 250 lbs.  He let me try on his football uniform with all the pads.  He was surprised that they were too small. In summary, I felt best between 225 and 230 lbs. Never, huge like the top throwers, but athletic.

At Loughborough, we were all training to be P.E teachers. As such we did, all the sports: cross country, gymnastics, soccer, rugby, swimming, on and on, even sailing. In my second year at Loughborough, we did a lot of gymnastics. I was weighing about 215 lbs. I could do hollow back handsprings off the vaulting horse, some pommel horse and lots of things on the high bar. I really wanted to do a giant swing, but the height of the gym was too low. I will give myself credit, on this as am certain I could have done one. That year my vertical jump was 34 inches. In my first year, we did all the track and field events. I remember long jumping 20 feet off a five-stride approach. We also did pole vault. I did 9’ 6” or 10 ft on an aluminum pole. I was helping a guy next to the pit to catch the pole when he vaulted.  Not sure why, but we were supposed to do this. The guy stalled out, and came down feet first into the box, where the pole is planted. His feet hit the bottom of the pole, and sent it rocketing my way, hitting me right in the middle of the forehead. Lots of blood, could not see for the red curtain. Off to the campus nurse, who stitched me up. We also did spring board diving. I did a back somersault, but then thought I would try and throw in a half twist. Got completely lost in the movement and splatted into the pool on the side of my body.  That smarted! There were a million stories like this. The whole curriculum seemed to prolong childhood as opposed to get one ready to teach children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loughborough Physical Education Group P1-G

(Dave Moorcroft back row, 3rd from left.

Good freind Ash Towe, front row far left.

Bill Curley, back row 3rd from right, room mate)

At the end of each day, I trained for the throws, either in the weight room Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, or threw the other days in the off-season. Most weight sessions were, two to two and a half hours. Maybe a bit less on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Monday and Thursday sessions would be around one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes on the platform pulling: cleans, snatches, high pulls and very occasionally deadlifts. Then front squats for a while.  With front squats, I used an EZ curl bar, for years. I have never seen this done since, but it made holding the bar on the shoulders very easy. My training partners were Olympian and British discus record holder Bill Tancred and hammer thrower and British international Jim Whitehead (PR of 69.52M) both of whom who lived locally.  Bill was lecturing at a nearby college and Jim was teaching high school. In my second year, we were joined by Stuart Biddle. Stuart was a shot putter, but turned to Olympic weightlifting.  Stuart eventually became Head of the School of Sport & Exercise Sciences at Loughborough between 2001 and 2007.

In my freshman year there was little exposure for track until the spring, April25, 1973 to be precise. The first event was just the athletic team.  The weather was unusually warm and there were a surprising number of spectators, who sat on the bank overlooking the track and near to the shot and high jump area. A fair number of the young women students came along. I threw 47 feet in the shot, a PR of about three feet. This remained my lifetime best.  I threw the shot for most of my high school career and post high school years but was never really very good at it. I tried the rotational shot just before leaving to go to America. I think that would have worked well for me, But I have never used that technique. The spring opener was the start to my college throwing career. I threw the discus 50.08M and the hammer 42.36M. I do not recall when I first picked up a hammer.  I played with it before going to Loughborough Colleges, but it wasn’t until I was at Loughborough, I did any practice sessions. Pretty much self-taught, I was strong enough to get three turns in and keep the low point where it should be and threw it straight. My arms were bent and I dragged the hammer behind to give it a whip at the end.  That is not what you are supposed to do as I have now learned.  All in all, I was a good points scorer for the team having throwing levels in the discus, shot and hammer that would always produce some points. My mind set was not in sync with being on a “team” track and field is comprised of individual events. But there was an exception.  Loughborough hosted an all-star event each year.  The Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) would select a team to compete against Loughborough.  Normally, the AAA’s would win. In 1975, under the captaincy of Stuart Biddle, Loughborough beat the AAA’s. Many athletes had to rise to the occasion and perform at or above their best.  The atmosphere was contagious and it was impossible not to realize that all members of the team were involved with a special experience.

During my time at Loughborough I took up Olympic weightlifting. I was doing cleans in high school and had clean 270 lbs / 122.5 Kg, but I had not done any jerks or snatches. A few of the regulars in the weight room did Olympic lifting, so I started to clean and jerk and do split snatches.  These new lifts very quickly increased my discus by 3-4M.  During my first winter I entered a weightlifting competition, the East Midlands Championships in February 1973. I think I snatched 90 Kg and clean and Jerked 122.5Kg. In attempting to save the jerk I was pulling it back forward to secure the weight overhead.  I had a lot of fixed air in my lungs and suddenly released it yelling “bastard” at the top of my voice. The room was small and the judge was a few feet away.  I apologized, genuinely embarrassed, and the judge gave me the lift.

Part of college life involves new interactions with your parents after you have left the nest.  This story is a little off point, but part of my undergraduate memories that it seems appropriate to mention here and it is weightlifting related. The Universities Athletic Union (UAU) Olympic weight lifting championships were held in Glasgow in early March 1973.  We decided to drive from Loughborough to the event which was 300 miles, a long drive in England. I had my 1500cc Ford Cortina GT and me, Collin Culley and another lifter set off, driving to Newcastle and then cross country to Carlisle.  This put you south of Glasgow, but still in England near the border. Somewhere, just after Newcastle, there was a pop in the engine.  After which, massive amounts of white smoke came out of the exhaust. We maintained our driving over the distinct hills and dales of the Scottish border territory. We were a rolling road block as the car had lost a lot of power, but somehow kept going.  We added three bottles of oil to drive the sixty miles from Newcastle to Carlisle. Once in Carlisle, we parked the car and took a train to Glasgow, getting in pretty late. I had called my dad a couple of times and explained our predicament.  He had been looking for an excuse to come and watch the weightlifting.  He left early Saturday morning and drove the 200 miles from Marple to Glasgow in a quick three hours. We all lifted quite well, even though most of my nervous energy was lost from the tough day of travel. I was second to British hammer international Ian Chipchase. He and I wear definitely throwers doing the snatch and clean and jerk.  I remember a Swedish foreign student in a lighter body weight class clean and jerking 400 lbs / 180 kg, demonstrating how it should be done. Two years later, in 1975, I won the British Students Championship in the 100kg division at Cambridge University. I power snatched 100kg and clean and jerked 137.5Kg.

After the event it was late enough that we would be staying the night in Glasgow. We were staying in student dorm rooms in a residential hall at Glasgow University.  After a few minutes’ discussion, we came up with the brilliant idea that we would steal a bed and mattress from one of the other dorm rooms, so my dad could save on a hotel room.  To be honest we thought that not many rooms would be used. So, my dad and I got to sleep, albeit in cramped circumstances.  Come about one in the morning, a very persistent security guard was systematically banging on all the doors in the dorm, looking for the missing bed. He had woken everyone up; and our turn was coming to open up and show our guilt or innocence. He pounded on our door.  My dad was using his inhaler as he was asthmatic. I got into a low voice and flung four letter word obscenities at the man, with a touch of half asleep. This went on for about a minute or so. Eventually, a second voice said something along the lines that “you better leave him alone, he is one of those massive weightlifters (all things are relative, but I will take it as a compliment) and may beat the shit out of you”. We lay breathing softly and our criminal record remained pristinely clean.  The next morning, we left early…. and in a hurry.

 I drove south with my dad. He had spoken to a mechanic who had an idea of the problem with my car, and a proposed solution. My car had blown a hole in a piston. As there was no compression in the cylinder, we took the push rods out of that cylinder and shut both valves.  By shutting the valves, the oil was kept in the oil pan and the massive white oil smoke problem was solved. I drove the car south to my mum and dads house in Marple, about one hundred and thirty-five miles. It was very slow on the hill of the M6 motorway, as the power had dropped by twenty five percent. We made it home, and I left the car there for repair. I went back to Loughborough on the train, but came back the following weekend to take the engine out of the car. We did not have an engine lift, so I stood on both sides of the engine bay and lifted the engine up and out, with a weightlifting bar and some ropes. My dad talked about the weekend and whole experience on and off for the rest of his life. An adventure with his son, yes, but an adventure that reminded him of his own escapades as a young man.

To best explain my athletics performances in my college years and twenties, let me list my 2k discus performances. The 2K discus is what is thrown by adult men and is the weight thrown in the Olympics and counted in world records.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compared to my teenage years progress became less rapid, which was natural.  One of the “what ifs” was deciding to back off training in 1975-1976, leading up to the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The British university system was not geared to take a year off as one progressed to a degree. The Olympic qualifying was 60M and I had thrown close to that in 1975 in training. Actually, being a chronic over trainer, I was bigger and stronger in the spring of 1976 as I trained less often.  My throwing was going OK as well.  What really made the biggest negative difference was a summer factory job that I needed to pay the bills before I got my first check as a teacher in late September of 1976. As a discus thrower, I felt I had time and would be able to train for the 1980 Olympics, as I would mature in strength and technique. But life events changed things as I emigrated to the United States in 1978. I attempted to compete and train for two or three years in the US.  I would come back to the UK in the summer months and compete a few times, but just as I was getting into a groove it was time to return. I remember specifically 1980.  I came home threw in some competitions around 52-53M. When I returned to the US they had just held the NCAA at the University of Illinois and I had seen a couple of top throwers, which was motivating. Training on my own, with a nice wind, I threw 60 meters. It felt good and I wasn’t frustrated, at least I knew I had more in the tank.

 

By 1981-2 I had stopped throwing at 29-30 years of age, and dropped down in bodyweight to about 205 lbs. / 92.5 kg. I made big, healthy, changes to my diet and was extremely muscular and fit, but my throwing days were over. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                 Post throwing physique. Circa 1982

 

                   

 

 

                Willie Young, 6'6 290 lbs and me                                           61M / 200ft discus thrower Kyle Jenner                                                                                                                           (left); 70ft shot putter Mike Lehman

 

A few loose ends.  I had thrown the hammer over 50M while living in England. Not great, but enough to do well at club meets.  The one event that I set a PB in while living in the US was the hammer.  I threw 52 meters and change, but I cannot find the exact number. I was a member of Stretford AC (now called Trafford AC).  Stretford won the National club championships during my time with the club. One week before leaving for the United States, I competed in the Corby Highland Games on July 15, 1976. In the 56 lb weight over the bar (WOB) for height event, I threw 16’ 2’’. This was a British record by 1 inch, previously held, jointly, by Bill and Grant Anderson. Years later, I discovered that the British record was the World Record at the time, so I held the WOB world record for two years.

GRD Discus Reverse.jpg
GRD Discus 55M.jpg
IMG_20221124_0002.jpg