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ORANGE COUNTY ON THE GO

Still Throwing Hard

Larry Stuart of Lake Forest Is Setting Javelin Records at Age 62

March 02, 2000|DAN ARRITT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Schmidt was flipping through TV channels in his Irvine home last week when he came across a local sports show previewing the Saddleback Masters Relays track and field meet.

Schmidt hadn't thrown a javelin competitively in more than 20 years, but the sport has stayed close to his heart since he won a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Schmidt is the only male U.S. Olympian to place among the top eight in the event since 1952.

The TV show included clips of leading masters performers who would be in attendance, including a tall, rugged javelin thrower who displayed the form and determination of a world-class competitor. When the athlete was identified, Schmidt nearly bit through his bottom lip.

"They said it was Larry Stuart and I couldn't believe he was still throwing," said Schmidt, who hadn't seen Stuart since 1970. "But knowing Larry, having competed against him, it doesn't surprise me at all."

Schmidt was one of a handful of old friends and competitors who stopped by Saddleback College last Saturday to say hello or even compete alongside Stuart, a 62-year-old Lake Forest resident who has dominated his age groups for more than 20 years.

Stuart did his best to impress those in attendance, adding another age-group world record to the books.

The retired industrial salesman threw his 800-gram javelin 174 feet 2 inches to surpass the previous mark by more than 20 feet. Stuart, who accomplished his latest feat in the 60-64 age group, also holds world records in the 45-49, 50-54 and 55-59 age groups. He also led the 40-44 group, but all records before 1983 were wiped out after the javelin was redesigned.

"He has what you call the elastic touch," said Dana Point's Burr Sweeney, who borrowed a javelin from Stuart and accompanied him to the meet. "Even at the college here, they don't throw as far, they don't even come close. He could win a junior college meet right now."

Stuart has learned the test of time cannot be predicted, cheated, delayed or ignored, but it can be challenged. That's why getting older has become a competition in itself. Every five years means another world record to break.

"Even [Latvian] Janis Lusis, who was one of the greatest throwers ever, I beat him at age 57 with a throw of 200 feet and he threw 171," Stuart said. "But it took 30 years to finally get him because when he was young, he kicked everybody's butt."

Stuart began throwing the javelin during high school in New Jersey. One of the best in the state during that time was the late actor Michael Landon, who at one time held the national high school record of 212 feet.

"His high school was our local rival in all sports," Stuart said. "He got a scholarship to come to USC and instead got into acting. I got a scholarship to come to USC and I'm still throwing."

Stuart was conference champion for the Trojans in 1963 and still holds the school record of 274-5. Despite being among the top 10 in the world rankings from 1963 to 1971, Stuart missed out on Olympic opportunities in 1964 and 1968 because of injuries.

That didn't diminish Stuart's passion. He continued throwing into the 1980s, setting the 45-49 age-group record in 1986 at age 48 (239-7). Two years later, he established the 50-54 mark (215-9), and in 1995 he set the 55-59 record (215-8), which is considered the best age-graded performance of all time. Competitors 60 and over are allowed to drop down to a 600-gram javelin during competition, and Stuart has that record too (212-5).

"If they took an Olympic champion now, I would beat him because of my age factor," Stuart said.

Stuart, who gives free lessons at Saddleback on Sundays, chose to throw the 800-gram javelin at Saturday's competition, "just so I can show these young guys I can do it," he said beforehand.

The weather was ideal for Saturday's competition, with blue skies and a favorable head wind greeting the two dozen participants that ranged from their late 30s to early 80s.

The runway, drawn in the middle of the school's football field, was softened from rain, causing Stuart to slide on his release and come up short on his first two throws. On his third attempt, however, he reached back, curled his upper body and flung his javelin more than 160 feet, breaking Del Pickarts' age-group record of 153.

Unhappy with that mark, Stuart added 10 feet to it on his next throw.

"My goal when I came out here today was 180, but I'm going backward because of the conditions," Stuart said. "You've got to put it into perspective, for a guy over 60 it's a long way, but it isn't going to make anyone in their 30s cringe."

Paul Sturgis came to watch Stuart while on vacation from Pennsylvania. Sturgis played high school football with Stuart, who later talked him into joining the military. That was the last time he had seen his old buddy throw.

"The javelin was a good way to get some good easy duty and special services," Sturgis joked. "He didn't have to work like the rest of us."

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