Al Oerter – My inspiration, his legacy
By Roald Bradstock – 7 May 2009
Al Oerter winning 4 consecutive gold medals in the discus is a legendary accomplishment. Each time he competed he was never favourite to win and yet he rose up, overcoming adversity, to win again and again. He was a true competitor – the modern day discobolus – a modern day legend whose name and achievements have become synonymous with the modern Olympics.
Al Oerter winning 4 consecutive gold medals in the discus is a legendary accomplishment. Each time he competed he was never favourite to win and yet he rose up, overcoming adversity, to win again and again. He was a true competitor – the modern day discobolus – a modern day legend whose name and achievements have become synonymous with the modern Olympics
Oerter’s last Olympic competition was in Mexico City in 1968 – over 40 years ago – but his Olympic journey did not end there. It continued off the field until the day he died on October 1, 2007.
It was a privilege to know Al and become part of his last Olympic journey. His vision, passion, drive and legacy lives on today – continued now by his family, his friends and neighbours and a small handful of Olympians artists.
Al Oerter, the gentle giant, the Olympic icon, the legend was also an abstract painter – he was an artist! His last Olympic journey was the formation of a Olympic organisation called “Art of the Olympians” (AOTO).
Al saw the strong link between sport, art and the Olympics. His vision was to bring together Olympian artists from around the world, from different sports and from different generations to exhibit their artwork and spread the Olympic ideas and values through accompanying educational programmes.
Al’s vision embraced Barron Pierre De Coubertin’s original idea and vision for the modern day Olympics – combining sport, culture and education to carry the Olympic message around the globe. Interestingly, Baron De Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics was also a athlete and a artist.
I became involved with AOTO in the autumn of 2005 after I met Al Oerter for the first time at the USA Track and Field Coaches convention. I was sitting in the hotel lobby with several hundred other coaches and athletes when suddenly there was a collective gasp followed by a subdued excited buzz.
Al Oerter and his wife Cathy had arrived.
To my astonishment they walked up to me. I was stunned. I had never met Al before. Cathy and Al introduced themselves and asked if I would join his newly formed organization. I did not hesitate -and so I became one of the founding members of the “Art of the Olympians” (AOTO).
Six months later we had our very first exhibition in Fort Myers, Florida with 14 Olympian artists represented. It was a wonderful but very surreal experience. My artwork was in a exhibition hanging on the wall between Al Oerter’s large abstract acyclic paintings and Bob Beamon’s graphic drawings. And on the opposite wall there were two large oil paintings by Florence Griffith-Joyner. I couldn’t help but be in awe and be humbled in the presence of such Olympic superstars and their artwork.
I remember looking around the gallery and thinking surely there has to be a connection here between the artistic pursuits and the athletic accomplishments of these 14 Olympians? Or was it a coincidence – a simple statical probability that there will be some artists amongst all the Olympic athletes in the world or was there something more to it. I also calculated that the 14 Olympians artists represented in this exhibition had an impressive collective haul of 24 Olympic medals and 28 World records between them. Could artistic talent and artistic ideas be the secret ingredient in these athletes Olympic careers?
I was so excited and inspired being in this first AOTO exhibition. Despite all the members of the Art of the Olympians being from different generations, competing in different sports and creating different artwork from a variety of mediums their was an incredible synergy and energy within the group. Most of us had never met before but we all felt connected through our Olympic experience and our through our art – we were family – an Olympic artistic family.
We all took lots of photographs and videos from the opening reception in the gallery to the student workshops in the classrooms over three days. But I wanted to do something more to capture the feeling and excitement I had, something different. And being an artist that meant creating a piece of art. But what could I create? What could I do that would be different and capture the feeling I had – the inspiration I felt. Then it came to me – it needed to be a collaborative piece with a fellow Olympian artist and who better than my long time inspiration and fellow Olympian artist then Al Oerter himself.
So I nervously asked Al to pose for me, to be my model for my next work: a piece called “Discobolus 2006”. He very graciously let me take photos of him standing in the famous Discobolus of Myron pose. As he stood in his foyer I moved around him – paying homage – and took dozens of photographs from every angle.
One of these photographs I then used as a base to create a unique paper collage of Al Oerter which also included his signature which he was kind enough to give me. I would have to say this is without doubt my most valuable possession – a collaboration of two fellow Olympian artists working together and the fact that he was my childhood idol and became a good friend, well lets just say it doesn’t get any better then that.
Since the first exhibition three years ago we have had shows at the National Arts Club, the New York Athletic Club, the United Nations and most recently in Beijing last year. The AOTO was even featured on the American national CBS morning show with Mike Smith.
There are more exhibitions in the planning stages and more Olympian Artists are joining the group. But the priority right now is on having a permanent home for the AOTO.
Al Oerter’s daughter, Gabrilee Oerter, has moved to Fort Myers and is now working full time along with Al’s widow and many others from his home town to see that Al’s dream becomes a permanent long term legacy. He was an inspiration as an athlete and as a artist for me and many others. His friends and family and his community are working together to see that his vision and his dream become a permanent reality and fixture in Fort Myers and also a integral part of the cultural Olympiad in the future.
Within the next year the official Art of the Olympians World headquarters and International museum will open its doors. It will be a bitter sweet day with Al not being there in person but it will be a joyous one: The realizations of a lifes dream – his dream – and creating a legacy – his legacy: The “Art of the Olympians”.
If you are interested in listening to an audio interview with Al where he discusses his career and his art passion (as well as AOTO), go to http://athleticscoaching.ca/?pid=1&spid=81&sspid=115 and scroll down. I did the interview with Al a few months before his passing and it is hands down my favorite we have done on the site. I was quite nervous for it I must admit. He was the reason I first became involved in the sport.
By D. Evely