Michael Carter’s Historic Launch
May 18, 2015
I remember Michael Carter’s final shot put, of course, no one present will forget that, but first I felt the wind getting stronger throughout that late afternoon in June 1979. I was wearing a tank top, instead of something more protective and professionally appropriate, and the weather gods lashed me as well as several thousand others in attendance at Sacramento State University. Had I not been covering the meet as a correspondent, and witnessing a preposterous series of puts by Carter, I would have left early or sought shelter behind some distant wall. Instead, I hungrily watched near the landing area.
Carter throughout the track season had dominated the prep world of 12-pound shot putters as no one ever had, demolishing the national record by several feet with a heave of 77 feet, and this day putting 75-5¼, 75-1, fouling on one that sailed more than 75 feet, letting another slip off his right hand for a mere 67-7½, and, on his next to last put, uncorking 76-4¼, his third longest ever. Here is a revised version of what I wrote after the meet:
Carter was getting ready to make his final throw when half-mile runners rounded the last turn, arousing the fans, so he waited several seconds and then decided to step out of the rink until the race ended. When the cheering ceased Carter readied himself again, crouched in throwing position, then exploded across the rink and let out his loudest yell of the evening. The shot took off at high velocity, rising and rising, and seemed to carry beyond what would be attainable for a human being. When the iron ball landed at 81-3½ it shattered the efforts of any other prep in history by more than nine feet. Knowing he’d done something extraordinary, Carter jumped out of the rink and ran and grabbed the American flag that marked his old record, and waved the flag while being congratulated by competitors, coaches and fans.
“It feels real good to do this,” he said. “My goal all year has been 80 feet, so this is just great. Before my last put I was pumped up and psyched. From my knees up I felt real good. I could tell I was going to do something big. I might not have gone so far if I’d thrown when the fans were cheering. I couldn’t concentrate.”
Reviewing that season, I see Michael Carter had already put the 16-pound shot 66-4, topping all but one adult competitor in the United States. There could have been world records on Carter’s resume, but he also played football in college and planned a career in the NFL. Just before retiring from track he won the silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He’s perhaps the only medalist better known for his prep exploits than those as an Olympian. He then joined my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, and for nine years hardened the middle of a stellar defense that featured safety Ronnie Lott and, combined with the offensive wizardry of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, earned the Niners three of their five Super Bowl titles.
Carter became a father in 1985, and for years has tutored his daughter Michelle, who like him set a national high school record in the shot put, and has also won five outdoor national titles and twice made the Olympic team, finishing 15th and fifth in the two most recent Games, and set the American women’s record of 66-5 in 2013. She’s now focusing on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Her father will be there too. Whether or not they discuss it, both will recall the windy 1979 day when Michael Carter put the shot into history.