Matson, James Randel ("Randy")

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MATSON, James Randel ("Randy")

(b. 5 March 1945 in Kilgore, Texas), phenomenal track-and-field athlete who won Olympic medals in the shot put, including a gold medal in 1968, set many shot and discus records, and was first to throw the sixteen-pound shot over seventy feet.

Matson was the second of three children born to Charles Wesley Matson, an oil company employee, and Ellen Erezeal Cole, a homemaker. In September 1945 the family moved from Kilgore to Borger, Texas, then in 1951 to West Browning Street in Pampa, Texas. With his parents' support, Pampa was the base from which Matson's athletic career was lofted.

Matson's first sporting love was baseball, and he spent many childhood summers playing and dreaming about the game. Matson's father led Little League practice sessions, and Matson was encouraged at Pampa's Sam Houston Grade School by teacher Beverley Ross. However, in Pony League baseball, nearsightedness interfered with Matson's judgment of the ball, so he became active and successful in junior high football, basketball, and track. When knee problems prevented his participation in football, coaches made Matson team manager assistant to keep him involved in sports. This was somewhat of a turning point, because one of his duties was tossing the shot put back to athletes practicing the event, a boring activity Matson found increasingly easy. He joined junior high track and won several shot and discus awards, which his mother kept in a dresser-top box. Eventually, Dwaine Lyon, the Pampa High School football and track coach, noticed Matson's potential and coached him extra hours to develop it.

In high school, foot injuries temporarily interfered with some athletic pursuits, but Matson eventually excelled in football, basketball, and track. Starting in his junior year, he set new shot and discus records in nineteen consecutive high school track meets. In April 1962 he officially surpassed 60 feet when he tossed the 12-pound shot 60 feet, 10 inches, to take first place in a meet. The dresser-top box continued to fill. As a junior Matson experimented with the 16-pound college shot—a rusty one Coach Lyon gave him but which Matson cleaned and continued to use during college—and threw it 55 feet. Given that the Southwest Conference record was 57 feet, Lyon told him, "You could make the Olympic team one day."

Although he never forgot this remark, Matson's greatest source of motivation was his desire to throw the shot farther than anyone ever had to set a world record. He was state shot and discus champion in his junior and senior years. As a senior he was All-District defensive end in football and All-State in basketball. For two years he was All-State and All-America in track and continued to set shot and discus records. Not long after his high school graduation in 1963, Matson threw the 16-pound shot 60 feet, 6 inches, becoming the first Texan to surpass 60 feet. He was named Texas High School Athlete of the Year in 1963.

Even before graduation, about 200 colleges recruited Matson. He enrolled in Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, in the fall of 1963. One reason that he chose Texas A&M was trainer Emil Mamaliga's weight-training program and the philosophy behind it: "You can't fire a 16-inch shell from a PT boat. You have to have a big, heavy ship." When he entered Texas A&M, Matson weighed 215 pounds and stood nearly six feet, seven inches, but under Mamaliga he reached 267 pounds and attained longer shot and discus throws. On 30 July 1966 Matson married Margaret Louise Burns, whom he had met in grade school. They had three children. Matson graduated from Texas A&M in 1967 with a bachelor's degree in marketing.

Matson's athletic achievements and awards during and after college packed a 16-pound wallop. In 1964 he won the shot put silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics with a throw of 66 feet, 3.5 inches. After his gold-medal throw of 66 feet, 8.5 inches, Dallas Long—Matson's idol—said of Matson, "This guy was fantastic out there today. Two more years and he'll be throwing the thing out of sight. He has everything—strength, timing, poise, and a great competitive spirit. I'm glad I got my gold medal this time because it's going to be his to win four years from now."

Matson was the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national shot-put champion in 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, and 1972. In 1965 he broke the shot world record three times. On 8 May 1965, at Texas A&M, Matson became the first person to throw the shot over 70 feet, with a toss of 70 feet, 7 inches. In 1965, 1966, and 1967 he was Southwest Conference shot and discus champion. He was National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) shot and discus champion in 1966 and 1967. Matson's best discus performance was 213 feet, 9 inches, on 8 April 1967. Fourteen days later, again at Texas A&M and on Randy Matson Day, he lofted the shot 71 feet, 5.5 inches for his best shot performance. Both performances were NCAA and U.S. records. Later that year Matson won the AAU's Sullivan Award as best amateur athlete.

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, as Long had predicted, Matson won the gold medal with a throw of 67 feet, 4.5 inches, a new Olympic record; he had wanted to avoid the stigma of holding the world record but never having won Olympic gold. Only later in life did he fully appreciate this medal as an achievement—unlike records—that he would keep forever. In 1970 Matson was Track and Field News Athlete of the World. He has been inducted into several sports halls of fame, including the Texas A&M Hall of Fame (1972), the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame (1984), and the National High School Sports Hall of Fame (1988). During his athletic career Matson was drafted by professional football and basketball teams, but chose to remain in track and field, retiring in 1972.

Upon his retirement Matson began working at Texas A&M's Association of Former Students and served as its executive director from 1980 until the end of 1999. He has been active in several civic and charitable affairs, including the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce and the Brazos Valley Rehabilitation Center. He has also been a member of the Texas A&M Church of Christ since 1972 and has lived in the same home near the Texas A&M campus since 1974.

The old saying that everything is bigger in Texas fits Matson's physical size, character, competitive drive, and lasting reputation. Although momentous, there is more to Matson's legacy than the first seventy-foot shot put. Before Matson, most athletes who put the shot did so because they were inadequate at other sports. Matson, on the other hand, was a great all-around athlete who chose the shot over other sports. He was an intense, yet modest competitor, who always tried to throw as far as he could and enjoyed solitary training. He converted competition's pressures into long, frequently record-setting throws. He felt blessed when fans honored him or made personal sacrifices to see him compete and expressed his appreciation with spectacular performances. On one occasion in 1967, in a Swedish village above the Arctic Circle, all 1,500 inhabitants withstood the weather to see Matson put the shot. There were no bleachers, and they had to clear snow from around the shot-put ring. Matson's put was 68 feet, his longest ever in Europe. Because of his popularity, he continued to receive autograph requests from youngsters in Europe and the United States for over thirty years and was a great role model for young people. Although he threw the shot over seventy feet for brief moments on particular days, his reputation has traveled worldwide for decades.

Carlton Stowers describes Matson's life in The Randy Matson Story: The Life and Athletic Career of History ' s Greatest Shot-Putter (1971). This biography contains several black-and-white photographs of Matson and many of his shot-put statistics. Additional statistics can be found in Encyclopaedia of Athletics (1977), compiled by Mel Watman. An article about Matson is P. Putnam, "No Practice Makes Almost Perfect," Sports Illustrated (8 Feb. 1971).

Gary Mason Church