Parry O'Brien

William Patrick "Parry" O'Brien (January 28, 1932 – April 21, 2007) was an American shot put champion. 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 IAAF and U.S. Olympic halls of fame.

Parry O'Brien
Parry O'Brien 1954b.jpg
O'Brien in 1954
Personal information
Birth nameWilliam Patrick O'Brien
Full nameWilliam Parry O'Brien[1]
BornJanuary 28, 1932[1]
Santa Monica, California, U.S.[1]
DiedApril 21, 2007(2007-04-21) (aged 75)[1]
Santa Clarita, California, U.S.[1]
Height6 ft 2+12 in (189 cm)[2]
Weight245 lb (111 kg)[2]
SportAthletics, Shot put
Event(s)Shot put, discus throw
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)SP – 19.69 m (1966)
DT – 59.99 m (1965)[3]
Updated on May 25, 2015.


Born in Santa Monica, California, Parry 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 in third place that year putting the standard 12-pound shot for high schoolers.[4]

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 on 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.[5]

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.[5] During his career he won 18 Amateur Athletic Union championships (combined outdoor and indoor), 17 in the shot put, 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 shot put, he also made motivational tapes for himself, and experimented with Yoga. Time magazine, in a cover story[6] 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)."[7] 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.[8]

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.[5]

After retiring from senior competitions O'Brien worked in the banking and real estate business in Southern California.[2] He 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. Later in the 1990s he began swimming because athletics put too much stress on his joints.[9]

O'Brien died at 75, of a heart attack in the 500 yard freestyle swimming pool at the Santa Clarita Aquatics club while he was competing in a Southern Pacific Masters Association regional swimming competition. He was survived by his wife Terri, stepsons Erik Skorge and Norman Skorge, and daughters Shauna and Erin.[5][9] O'Brien was previously married to Sandra Cordrey (March 1955)[10] and Arden Arena (June 1960).[11][12]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Parry O'Brien". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Parry O'Brien". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  3. ^ Parry O'Brien.
  4. ^ "California State Meet Results – 1915 to present". Hank Lawson. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Helene Elliott (April 23, 2007). "Parry O'Brien, 75; revolutionized shotput throw". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ Parry O'Brien. Time Magazine, December 3, 1956
  7. ^ "The Great White Whale". Time Magazine. December 3, 1956. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008.
  8. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "United States". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 19, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Litsky, Frank (April 23, 2007) Olympic gold medalist O'Brien dies at 75. New York Times
  10. ^ File:Parry O'Brien with wife 1955.jpg
  11. ^ File:Parry O'Brien with wife 1955.jpg
  12. ^ Parry O'Brien eyes honemoon in sunny Italy. Californian (June 30, 1960) p. 41

External linksEdit

  Media related to Parry O'Brien at Wikimedia Commons

Olympic Games
Preceded by Flagbearer for   United States
Tokyo 1964
Succeeded by