Parry O'Brien

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Parry O'Brien
Medal record
Men's athletics
Competitor for the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold 1952 Helsinki Shot put
Gold 1956 Melbourne Shot put
Silver 1960 Rome Shot put
Pan American Games
Gold 1955 Mexico City Shot put
Gold 1959 Chicago Shot put

William Patrick "Parry" O'Brien (January 28, 1932 – April 21, 2007) was an American shot put champion. Born in Santa Monica, California, he competed in four consecutive Summer Olympics where he won two gold medals (1952, 1956) and one silver medal (1960). In his last Olympic competition (1964) he placed fourth. For all of these accomplishments, O'Brien was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.


O'Brien was very active in sports at Santa Monica High School, playing end on the football team that won the California state championship in 1948. He was then awarded an athletic scholarship in football to the University of Southern California. He also won the (non-standard for high schoolers) 16-pound shot put competition at the 1949 CIF California State Meet. He also finished third in third place that year putting the standard 12-pound shot for high schoolers. [1]

O'Brien enrolled in college at U.S.C., where he continued to play football as a freshman until he was kicked in the stomach during practice and injured. He then decided to concentrate onto track and field, for the shot put and the discus throw).

In the early 1950s, O'Brien developed a new method for putting the 16-pound shot. The Los Angeles Times described it:

When O'Brien began throwing the shot, the standard method was to rock back on one leg, swing the other in front for balance, hop forward and propel the iron ball forward. O'Brien instead began by facing the back of the circle. He then turned 180 degrees, using the spin to generate momentum and help him throw the shot greater distances.[2]

Using this method he was able to break the world record in the shot put 17 times, becoming the first man to put the 16-pound shot more than 60 feet, and winning 116 consecutive meets in the shot put. This method became known as "O'Brien Style" or the "O'Brien Glide." He held the world record from 1953 to 1959.[2] During his career he won 18 Amateur Athletic Union championships (combined outdoor and indoor), 17 in the shotput, plus one in the discus. He won nine consecutive national indoor shot put championships, and he won eight overall outdoors, including five in a row.

As a competitor, in addition to developing new techniques for the shotput, he also made motivational tapes for himself, and experimented with Yoga. Time magazine, in a cover[3] cover story written during the week before the Melbourne Olympics, noted "None has been more successful than O'Brien in combining what he calls "M.A." (mental attitude) and "P.A." (physical aptitude)."[4] He was the first man to retain his Olympic shot put title since Ralph Rose of the United States did so in 1904 and 1908. During the 1960 Summer Olympics, O'Brien won the silver medal in one of the rare track meets that he did not win.

In 1964, O'Brien was the flag bearer for the American Olympic Team at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

O'Brien entered the National Track and Field Hall of Fame of the United States in 1974. Next he was chosen for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984, and then the Univ. of Southern California Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.[2]

O'Brien remained active in masters athletics, and he put a six kilogram shot 58'1½ " (17.72 m) at age 50 in 1984. This distance, two feet further than the listed American Masters record in his age division is still pending.

O'Brien died of a heart attack in the 50-meter swimming pool at the Santa Clarita Aquatics club while he was competing in a Southern Pacific Masters Association regional swimming competition. He was 75 years old.


  1. ^ "California State Meet Results - 1915 to present". Hank Lawson. Retrieved 2012-12-25. 
  2. ^ a b c Helene Elliott (April 23, 2007). "Parry O'Brien, 75; revolutionized shotput". Los Angeles Times. 
  3. ^ Time, December 3, 1956
  4. ^ "The Great White Whale". Time Magazine. December 3, 1956. 

External links[edit]

Olympic Games
Preceded by
Rafer Johnson
Flagbearer for  United States
Tokyo 1964
Succeeded by
Janice Romary
Preceded by
United States Jim Fuchs
Men's Shot Put World Record Holder
May 9, 1953 – March 28, 1959
Succeeded by
United States Dallas Long
Preceded by
United States Dallas Long
Men's Shot Put World Record Holder
August 1, 1959 – March 5, 1960
Succeeded by
United States Dallas Long