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Al Oerter
David Epstein
July 02, 2007
One of the alltime great Olympians, he finds common ground between athletics and aesthetics
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July 02, 2007

Al Oerter

One of the alltime great Olympians, he finds common ground between athletics and aesthetics

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Al Oerter�took to abstract painting as he once did to throwing the discus. "It's something I want to do every day," says the first track and field athlete to win the same event in four consecutive Olympics (1956, '60, '64 and '68). And the painting was going quite well until March�13, 2003--the day Oerter died. His heart stopped during a meeting of his condo board in Fort�Myers Beach, Fla. "Those meetings," says Oerter, 70, "could kill anybody."

Oerter had changed his blood pressure medication, causing fluid to build up around his heart. When he got to the hospital, he motioned for a scrap of paper. "My wife [Cathy] thought I was going to write, 'I love you forever,' " Oerter says, "but I wrote, 'The light at the end of the tunnel is bulls---.' " Four cardiologists told him he needed a heart transplant, a suggestion he dismissed. "I've had an interesting life," says Oerter, "and I'm going out with what I have."

While Oerter no longer competes in his old field, the discus sometimes plays a role in his artwork, which is influenced by such expressionists as Wassily Kandinsky and Robert Motherwell. For his Impact series Oerter flings the disc at pools of paint lying on canvas, creating forceful lines that radiate outward. To promote the relationship between athletics and aesthetics, last year Oerter helped create Art of the Olympians, which has collected the work of 14�Games veterans, including long jumper Bob Beamon, luger Cammy Myler and swimmer Shane Gould. The exhibit has traveled to New York City and will soon find a permanent home in a gallery on the Fort Myers waterfront. Oerter, too, stays on the move. He expects to be at the Summer Games in Beijing next year--not throwing, of course, but showing his pieces. Says Oerter, "It's a lot easier on the shoulders."

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