A standout high school football player, Parry O’Brien earned a scholarship to play for the University of Southern California. As a freshman, however, O’Brien was kicked in the stomach during practice – and while he decided that was the end of his football career, it was a choice that propelled him to athletic stardom.
Finished on the gridiron, O’Brien channeled all of his energy into the shotput. Determined to improve his distance, O’Brien revolutionized the event with the O’Brien Glide, a new technique that saw athletes do a 180-degree spin and create greater momentum before launching the 16-pound ball of steel.
“It’s an application of physics which says that the longer you apply pressure or force to an inanimate object, the farther it will go,” O’Brien told Time magazine. “My style is geared to allow me to apply force for the longest time before releasing the shot.”
When combined with his tireless dedication, the O’Brien Glide made him nearly unbeatable. O’Brien would sometimes practice in an alley behind his house, in a vacant lot or even in an empty Los Angeles Coliseum after sneaking into the vast stadium.
“I don’t quit until my hands bleed,” O’Brien said. “And that’s the god’s truth.”
O’Brien held the world record from 1953 to 1959, setting a new mark a whopping 17 times and winning 116 consecutive meets. He won the shotput gold medal at the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games and the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, becoming the first Olympian to repeat as shotput gold medalist in nearly 50 years.
O’Brien then took silver at the Rome 1960 Olympic Games and was the American flag bearer for the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, where he finished fourth.
After giving up the shotput, O’Brien took up swimming and became a competitive swimmer in masters competition. O’Brien died of a heart attack during a 500-yard freestyle race in 2007. He was 75 years old.