Late beginner a first-rate competitor

Sunday, August 3, 2008 | 8:03 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - A light breeze blows through Walton Stadium on Sunday morning. The stadium is cluttered with track and field contestants, each concentrating on his or her event, many of which occur at the same time.

A woman in a pink shirt stands by the triple jump pit and watches as her husband runs down the track to jump at the 24-foot line, briefly hit ground and then jump into the pit. The volunteers at the Show-Me State Games measure his jump at 28 feet, 10 inches.

Randall Olson, 60, shakes his head as he walks back to the end of the line. He is not satisfied with his jump.

"When you think these boys are 18 and jumping 33 feet, it's amazing that he can jump 28 feet," Amber Olson says of her husband.

Randall Olson and his wife, Amber, traveled 6½ hours from Norfolk, Neb., so he could participate in the State Games of Mid-America, part of the final weekend of the Show-Me State Games. Randall Olson signed up for 14 track and field events.

He won the gold in the 60-to-64 age division in five events Saturday, a notable feat for a man who did not start competing in track and field until age 43. Randall Olson planned to participate in nine events on Sunday. A slight injury to his right leg Saturday and a lack of participants caused him to drop four of the running events from his Sunday list.

"I think I hyperextended it in the 100-meter dash," Randall Olson says about his leg. "I just don't want to injure it further because then I wouldn't have any good legs."

He said he tore ligaments in his left ankle in 2001 and was unable to compete for 4½ years. Olson's ankle healed, but he had to learn to become right-leg dominant.

As the other participants take their jumps, Olson heads to the pole vault station.

Amber Olson watches him vault a couple of times and then wanders over to the shot put area to see when that event is supposed to begin. Randall Olson heads back to the triple jump pit as Amber Olson returns to inform him the shot put event is about to start. He runs back to the pole vault, takes one last jump, grabs his tennis shoes and departs for the shot put area.

"Remember, the pit closes at 10," a volunteer reminds the triple jump participants.

Amber Olson stands by the fence as she watches her husband and the other participants in the shot put. She said she travels with her husband to watch him participate in track and field events six or seven times a year. She said he keeps trying to get her to participate in the events.

"It's never too late to start," Randall Olson says.

Randall Olson picks up his shot and rests it close to his neck. He pushes his throwing arm forward to throw the heavy metal ball as far as he can. The volunteers measure the distance, but Amber Olson does not hear them announce it.

"What was that one, hun?" she asks. "Better?"

"No," Randall Olson replies.

"Oh, it looked better. Your form was better," Amber Olson says.

"Yeah, it felt better. I don't know," Randall Olson says, looking upset with himself.

Randall Olson finishes his shot put event and then changes his shoes to walk to the javelin area.

"Thirtyfour-four was my best and that was my first one, which is weird. I usually get better as I go," Randall Olson says to his wife as they walk across the track together.

Amber Olson says her husband puts too much pressure on himself. She says it is hard for him to accept that he is getting older and cannot do as well as he once did. He placed second in shot put in his age division.

"I'm always amazed that he can go from event to event so easily," Amber Olson says.

The couple approaches the javelin area.

"I like when they line the javelins up like that with all the colors," Randall Olson says to his wife.

"Yeah, it's pretty," Amber Olson replies.

Randall Olson changes his shoes again and goes to practice for the event.

"I have to put my initials on this thing," Randall Olson says to his wife as he picks up his javelin.

"Yeah, there are a lot of yellow and green ones," Amber Olson says.

Randall Olson steps into the javelin area and prepares himself for the throw. He holds the pole over his head with his right hand, sprints to the line and releases the javelin.

"That was good," Amber Olson tells her husband after his first throw.

"That was not bad," Randall Olson corrects her.

He stands by his wife as he watches an 80-year-old man throw a javelin.

"I like the toothpicks they have when you get up to 80," Randall Olson comments.

"Then you have something to look forward to," Amber Olson says.

"What time do you have," Randall Olson asks his wife.

"9:36," Amber Olson replies.

"I don't know if I dare go over there," Randall Olson says with a nod towards the triple jump.

He still needs to finish competing in the triple jump. He decides to stay at the javelin event with his wife.

"Randall Olson is in the hole," a volunteer announces.

"I'm glad I didn't go over there," Randall Olson says as he picks up his javelin.

"Oh, your initials are on there," Amber Olson says as she looks at the javelin.

"Yeah, I found them," Randall Olson said.

He throws his second javelin and then runs over to finish his triple jump. At first, Amber Olson did not notice he had gone.

"Oh, he went over to finish his triple jump," she says as she looks around and locates him across the field. "He won't be able to settle for a 28, even with his leg."

When Randall Olson returns to the javelin area, he tells his wife he jumped 29 feet. He took first in his age division.

Randall Olson throws his last two javelins. He scratches on his third throw, but makes a 127-7 on his last, placing him first in his age division for javelin.

After completing the javelin event, Randall Olson puts his javelin away and crosses the field to get his pole-vaulting pole. He decides to put his equipment in the car before his next event, the hammer throw.

He just started doing the hammer throw this year and has never thrown in a competition before.

"It looks so dangerous, I can't watch it," Amber Olson says.


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