Canonsburg fetes Olympic athlete Bill Schmidt
Canonsburg Mayor Dave Rhome, left, and honoree Bill Schmidt, who won a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, unveil a landmark in recognition of the 40th anniversary on Saturday.
Bill Schmidt in the 1972 Olympics.
Share with others:
When Bill Schmidt was a boy, he used to compete with his twin brother, Bob, and friends in their own version of the Olympic Games played in the backyard of his family's Canonsburg home.
Then, as a young adult, he participated in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, and won a bronze medal.
On Saturday, Canonsburg celebrated the 40th anniversary of Mr. Schmidt's win by unveiling a 8-foot by 4-foot marquee, a permanent monument to his victory, in a garden at Pike Street and Ashland Avenue.
State Rep. Brandon Neuman and state Sen. Tim Solobay presented citations from the state.
"The entire event was financed by private donors," Mayor David Rhome said of the marker. "This is another way Canonsburg honors its famous sons and daughters and moves the borough forward with another project that adds to our attractiveness as a tourist destination that includes sites like Sarris Candy, our Perry Como statue in front of the municipal building and the proposed American Pop Music Hall of Fame."
Mr. Schmidt, 64, played football and ran track for Canon-McMillan High School, but his first love was baseball. He and a friend, Tom Detorre, joined four dozen or so other major league hopefuls in a regional tryout.
"Tom ended up pitching for the Pirates and Cubs, and I ended up throwing a stick around the world," he said.
By stick he means the javelin, a roughly 8-foot-long spear thrown in track and field athletics. Mr. Schmidt had very little coaching in the sport while in high school. High school coach Joe Gowern was unfamiliar with the sport and basically gave him a javelin and told him to practice throwing it. By the time he graduated from Canon-McMillan, he managed a 204-foot throw. At North Texas State University, where he majored in business, that increased to 219 feet as a sophomore, a feat that earned him a partial scholarship.
"I asked my coach what it would take to get a full scholarship and he said 240 feet," Mr. Schmidt said
In his very first meet that year, he completed a 242-foot throw. In 1970, his senior year, he finished second in the NCAA and managed a best-of-year throw of 280 feet, 7 inches.
"It's unusual for someone to throw an additional 10 feet in a year, but I managed to increase my distance by 30 feet in that time span," he said.
To hone his skills, he watched films of other javelin throwers, mainly Finns, regarded as some of the best in the world. He also did some minimal weight training and read everything about the javelin he could get his hands on.
When he was drafted into the Army after graduating from North Texas State, he made it onto the Army team in 1971 and went to Finland to participate against others from about 100 countries in the world military championship games. At the meet, he set a world military record javelin throw of 272 feet, won a trophy and got to carry the American flag in the closing ceremony.
Following training for the javelin throw at the U.S, Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., he qualified for America's Olympic team and flew off to Munich.
"The first day of the Olympics was terrible for me," he said. "Someone failed to pick me up at the Olympic Village, so I ran three miles to the stadium. At the gate, the guard told me the javelin trials had already closed, but I pushed forward. The next thing I knew, I was on the track competing without a warm-up but came in 10th in the elimination rounds, which qualified me for the finals."
The next day he said he got to the stadium early and ended the day by getting the bronze medal. It was the first time that an American won a medal for the javelin throw since 1952 and the only time since.
"When I got back home, Canonsburg gave me a ticker tape parade and went crazy," he said.
The euphoria of coming in third dissipated to some extent when a group of terrorists held the Israeli team captive in Olympic Village during the Munich games. Mr. Schmidt said he could see the terrorists wearing ski masks and sweat pants from his apartment 200 yards away.
"While the Germans put together one of the best Olympics at Munich, it'll always be remembered for the terrorist massacre," he said.
Mr. Schmidt went on to have a successful career that included getting a master's degree from the University of Tennessee; becoming director of sports for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville; and vice president of sports for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He also put in a 15-year stint as vice president for worldwide marketing for Gatorade and one year as CEO for Oakley, an eyeglass and apparel company.
In 2001, he started his own sports marketing and consulting firm, Pegasus, which he still operates, and he has been an adjunct professor in the department of exercise and sport at the University of Tennessee since 2002.
Mr. Schmidt credits Mr. Gowern, his high school track coach, for getting him into college. Mr. Gowern was in the stadium the day he won his bronze medal in Munich.
But he died two months before the Canonsburg ceremony that he helped plan.
"He was a great guy, Canonsburg was a great place to grow up and I'm glad to be able to give something back by adding my name to the list of notables who lived there," he said.
First Published December 6, 2012 5:01 am