At 72, Westporter's gone from Olympian to RTM member to hammer thrower
Updated 5:32 am, Thursday, March 17, 2011
Westporter Ann Marie Flynn, who served nearly 10 years on the Representative Town Meeting, knows how to hammer home a point.
But she stepped down from the town's legislative body recently to spend more time with her family, as well as to pursue other interests.
As in hammer throwing. Hurling a 3-kilo, or 6-pound, 6-ounce, metal ball.
Having made her foray into the sport only last year, the 72-year-old Flynn already ranked fourth in the nation by the USA Track & Field Master Association. Flynn clearly isn't your everyday septuagenarian. In fact, she's a former Olympian. She competed in the high jump at the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia. The Westport News recently sat down with Flynn to discuss her decades-spanning athletic career.
Q: You were a high jumper for the German-American Athletic Club and became a national AAU champion at 17. A year later, you were in Melbourne, Australia, representing the United States at the Olympics. First of all, can you tell us how you became interested in the high jump?
A: "I became interested in the high jump because that is the event my coach, Harry Blaul, wanted me to concentrate on. He also made a hurdler out of me, but the best I could do nationally in the event was third. Back in those days there was no Dumas roll or Fosby Flop. The western roll or scissor jump were in use. I did the scissor jump because it came natural to me. There were no soft landing pits in those days. The best you would have would be 6 inches of mats to land on.
"After clearing a 5-foot bar, with no soft landing, you would want to stand up as quickly as possible to preserve your spring for the next jump. It was a cool happening, and a challenging one. The highest I cleared was 5 feet, 5 and a half inches competing against the Russians in a dual competition. Today, because of the refined jumping techniques, it would be the equivalent of a 6-foot jump."
Q: What was training like for high school female athletes in the mid-1950s? You competed well before Title IX came into existence. Did you ever feel, or even realize, that females were maybe getting the short end of the stick?
A: "Training facilities for high school female athletes in track and field back in those days was practically non-existent. We had outdoor practices at McCarren Park in Greenpoint -- a part of Brooklyn. There were rough jumping areas and a 440-yard track. We were very glad it was available. In the winter, we used the inside locker area of the complex which was beside their outdoor pool. A 35-yard or so straight-away was the maximum we could run.
"The Millrose Games and the Knights of Columbus indoor meets in New York City would invite us to run a relay ... with each leg doing 167 yards. To train for this we had to go to Columbia University and train on their outdoor board track, in the months of February and March. Brrr!
"Possibly it was Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post who wrote unfavorably of women competing in track and field. He would wait for public response and, it was said, he would show the letters to his editor and say, "See, people do read my column. Meet officials never did much to encourage female participation in the sport. The AAU association would have to schedule meets for us to keep our competitive juices flowing."
Q: How many jumps were you given at the Olympic trials? And do you remember what the qualifying height was?
A: "At the Olympic Trials you could start jumping at any height. As long as you cleared the height, you stayed in the competition.
"After three misses at the same height you were out of the competition. Looking back, I believe the qualifying height for the 1956 games was 5 feet, 2 inches.
Q: Can you describe for us what was going on in your life ahead of heading to the Olympic Games? Were you still in high school?
A: "1956 was the year of my high school graduation. We had to take the New York State Regent exams. Besides the school homework, I was also working a part-time job five days a week, three hours a day, and finding time for practice. Rest was not a big issue on my calendar. Weekends were reserved for competition whenever it was around."
Q: I know you didn't medal at the Olympic Games, but then again, sometimes even the most talented athletes, the ones picked to take gold in their respective spot, falter on the Olympic stage. If you had a chance for a do-over, what would you do differently?
A: "The Olympic Games were a great treat for me. After having a hectic pace back here it allowed rest time and meal time.
"I became addicted to the nightly Ovaltine bar, and consumed much too much of it. Between not having my own coach and practice situations, and OD'ing on the meals and Ovaltine, I put on 12 pounds, which didn't help my jumping. If I had a chance for a re-run I would have curbed the chow and looked for a good coach over there."
Q: You were 18 years old mingling with the best athletes in the world. What's your greatest memory of your time in Melbourne?
A: "The Olympic Games made me realize war is not a necessity among nations. The games are a multi-nation event that promotes harmony. It's definitely a place for turning `Swords into plowshares ... spears into pruning hooks.' It's an international event that promotes lasting friendships. The casual every day intermingling with athletes, the shared meals and coaching tips made the trip what it was. The Australians were outstanding hosts. One of the outstanding features of the games was the sharing and inclusiveness of the athletes, regardless of what nation you were representing."
Q: You didn't let not medaling at the Olympic Games stomp out your fire to compete. Three years later, you became a 1959 Pan American Games gold medalist. Where did the competition take place and how satisfying was it to come out on top, at that level of competition?
A: "The 1959 Pan-American games were held in Chicago. The first time ever they weren't held in another country in the Western Hemisphere. I felt rather cheated that it wasn't in Brazil, Peru or some other distant place. It was terrific, after my winning my event, to stand on the podium and accept the gold medal. The big kicker of the award presentation was the playing of our national anthem while all in the stadium stood to honor the victory and colors. The second-place Canadian and third-place jumper from Chile, who were on the podium, honored my victory quite well."
Q: Fifty-plus years later, the competitive juices are still flowing. Now you're into hammer throwing. What drew you to the sport?
A: Even 50 years later, it's still enjoyable to go out and compete in master's competition. Due to wear on my body, I had to change the events I compete in. Now I throw discus, shot and other weights.
"The big new one that I started last year is hammer throwing. I have to do it in a reverse direction to my other throwing events. All throwing events are from the toe nails to the finger nails so they become total workouts. Even though the hammer throw is the most strenuous of them all, it doesn't affect the parts of my body that have been operated on. Plus, it gives me an extra event to enter at meets, so I can have more fun."
Q: Is it a total body workout? How many different muscles are you working in hammer throwing?
A: "It's the one event that really saps your energy quickly. The use of counter force might be part of the reason. In the other throwing events, counter force is not an issue because you are going with the throws. If any one wants to get in shape, quickly, the hammer throw would be a good answer for them. Be kind to yourself when you first start."