COLUMBIA — Horseshoes clank against each other, thudding heavily into the sandy pit. Over the dissonance of the metal-on-metal, a hearty laugh bellows.
"That's a ringer!" Bill Cannon of Ballwin yells.
The Missouri State Senior Games is an Olympic-style sports festival for participants over the age of 50. The Senior Games will be held the weekend of June 14-15-16. Competitors come from all over Missouri as well as out of state to participate in the competitive games.
More than 20 sports events will be hosted at various parks, arenas and venues around Columbia. A list can be found here.
Cannon walks to the edge of the horseshoe pit to kick down a rogue horseshoe tossed by his opponent, 72-year-old Robert Ruble.
"The horse is still on that one!" Cannon says while laughing, as the horseshoe bounds away, taking a course of its own.
Cannon is 83, the oldest horseshoe competitor in the Missouri State Senior Games that take place this weekend in Columbia. His opponent, Ruble, was born when Cannon was in middle school. He is a grandparent 15 times over, and he "still has his strut," according to his T-shirt.
After warming up, Cannon returned to the Cosmopolitan Park shelter, where he reclined on a bench to wait for the games to start. He sat there but not for long. Soon, Loretta Hopgood walked up. Cannon jumped out of his seat.
"Hey!" he yelled, arms open wide, ready to embrace his old friend.
Cannon has known Hopgood and most of the other horseshoe throwers for more than 20 years, always returning yearly to toss some shoes.
"We've been doing this as long as dirt," Hopgood said. "More years than pebbles on the beach."
Cannon said he competes in horseshoeing for the camaraderie, not for medals. He did win a gold medal by default on Friday, though, because the only other athlete in his age group didn't show up.
"It's like a big reunion," Cannon said.
"You know when you have Christmas just once a year with your family, and you're so happy to see each other? Its like that," Hopgood said.
Time to play
The official for the horseshoes competition looked at his watch and declared it 2 p.m. Time to start throwing.
Cannon followed Ruble into the horseshoes arena, carrying two 2-pound, 10-ounce horseshoes — the maximum a horseshoe can weigh, but lighter shoes are allowed. The men alternated throwing the shoes, about double the size of a regular horseshoe, at metal stakes embedded in sandy pits about 40 feet apart.
"I play horseshoes like I play shuffleboard," Cannon said. "I count on luck... My strategy is to just outlive my competition."
Cannon swung his arm around, warming up his joints before his throws. He got his stance just right – one foot in front of the other, reaching outward – and tossed a shoe.
Clank. He hit the stake.