Sunday, June 30, 2024

Day 10 - US Track and Field Trials

Lynne Winbigler Anderson

Oregon's Groundbreaking Discus Star

A Career in the Earliest Days of Title IX

by Mark Cullen

Lynne Anderson
at the University of Oregon's Knight Library

It’s the spring of 1976. I was in my first year in the job market and, a year after graduating from the University of Oregon, did not yet have a job my parents could tell their friends about.

I made contact with the publisher of the ‘76 US Olympic Trials Program and got a job writing features and event previews. I also covered these same events in the daily supplement to the Program throughout the Trials.

My interest was piqued by a recent University of Oregon graduate who was making a name for herself in the discus.

I went to South Eugene High School one evening early that June to watch Lynne Winbigler - now Anderson - being coached by “Multiple Mac” Wilkins, also a recent graduate.

Looking back on it now, each was on the cusp of a dramatically new and different life. For Wilkins, it was winning gold in the men’s discus in Montreal, and for Anderson, it was winning the only women’s discus spot available on the ’76 US Olympic team.

For each, before and after began at Eugene’s second Olympic Trials.

“It opened up a lot of doors for me, being an Olympian,” Anderson said, 48 years later, “and in fact, it got me my first job.”

That first job was coaching at the University of Minnesota, and the fit was so good that she stayed for 33 years.

“You're always an Olympian - you can't take that away. But it's something that I did a long time ago, and I've done a lot of good things since then.”

Anderson got started unusually early for a thrower in the 1970s; her good fortune was that her father was athletic director at Bend (OR) High School.

“I love to throw,” said Anderson, and she always has. She suffered mightily from shin splints when throwing the javelin in Middle School, but greatly enjoyed throwing a six pound weight plate in her backyard.

She qualified for shot and javelin at State her freshman year of high school but did not place; she told her Dad that throwing the javelin made her legs “feel like wood.”

Even though she initially envisioned herself playing basketball, softball, and field hockey in high school, Anderson started throwing discus her sophomore year; then it was shot put and discus the rest of the way.

During Middle School, “My Dad showed me how to throw – and my Dad was the athletic director… Lo and behold, when I got to high school there were full-fledged competitions. He started girls’ athletics with home and away meets in the conference.”

She recalls that she didn’t see her Dad as much as she would have liked.

“I didn’t see him very often because athletic directors are always at an event in the evening.”

Anderson finished second in State in the discus in both her junior (’69) and senior (’70) years, and was 5th in the shot put as a junior.

She attended Oregon State University as a freshman since she wanted to be an occupational therapist. OSU had a therapy program while the University of Oregon did not.

A year later her parents moved to Eugene, and as she was having second thoughts about occupational therapy as a career, she moved in with them and enrolled at Oregon, where her sister, Leslie, was a member of the club level field hockey, track, and bowling teams.

Anderson joined the Oregon track team, and in 1975 realized she would have to add weights to her workout regimen to find the distance and technique improvements she sought.

Her epic payoff came in the 1976 US Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, as an Oregon native and UO graduate who won with her last-round throw.

She had moved from 5th to 3rd place and was on the verge of being on the outside looking in when she uncorked her last-round winner.

“That's what helped jump-start my system in the old days,” she said. “I hadn’t lifted at all in high school. Or in college until my senior year. When I started lifting in January of my senior year, I started throwing better.”

Eugene Register-Guard/Tuesday, June 8, 1976

Article by Dave Kayfes with newspaper photograph by Steve Thompson

Nonetheless, in spite of having made the Olympic team, Anderson felt like a fish out of water.

“I feel like I was taken out of a PE class and thrown into the Olympics,” she said. The weightlifting payoffs started the next year when she set the American discus record of 189’6” (57.76).

Anderson won the AAU national title in 1976, ’77, and ’79, and was a dominant force in US throwing during this time.

A favorite to make the 1980 Olympic team, she did indeed - but traveled to the White House, not to Moscow, after President Jimmy Carter imposed a boycott.

There are few who appreciate the recent rise in US and North American women’s throwing more than Anderson. When discussing the fact that US women led three of the four throwing events in the world last year, she said a wistful, appreciative, “Isn't that something?”

It took years - and decades - to reach this level.

Title IX changes took – and still take – a long time to become the fabric of women’s sports. Title IX is often seen through a gauzy haze of reinvented progress.

Not so fast, says Anderson.

“We were not allowed on Hayward Field until the men were done,” she said, and in 1980, while working out in a weightlifting gym in California with Mac Wilkins, Anderson - the only woman in the room - approached her first lift.

The gym fell silent as all the men turned and watched.

Something that now goes without question was a novelty then; few men had ever seen a woman lift weights - much less in a weight room - before.

When Anderson made her first Olympic team in 1976, it was the first time men’s and women’s teams were combined for a truly complete Olympic Trials. The ‘72 women’s Trials had been held on a high school track in Maryland, while the men competed in tonier surroundings at Hayward Field.

It is especially rare to find a woman of that era whose personal sports history parallels the awakening of a national consciousness regarding women in sports as closely as Anderson’s does.

For her 1970 and ‘71 high school junior and senior year placings at State, Anderson was pre-Title IX.

Title IX was signed on June 23, 1972.

So, for her collegiate career, which began at Oregon State in 1971, she was, remarkably, pre and post Title IX in the same year.

Even though the changes came slowly, the sea change she helped inspire caught up to her as more and more women were drawn to the throws. Anderson noticed taller, stronger competitors, many of whom had now started lifting in high school.

The early effects of Title IX were beginning to take hold.

“I couldn’t believe how short I had gotten!” she laughed. “All of these women came out of nowhere!”

“I think one difference now is that women are really focusing on speed,” she said. “And someone like Valerie Allman, who's a ballet dancer, is also very strong.”

Anderson is more than surprised to find the level of recognition accorded her for her groundbreaking career. She is grateful for the retrospective appreciation for what she and her throwing colleagues accomplished.

Anderson is a member of the inaugural class of the University of Oregon’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and is a member of the Minnesota Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame as well.

Anderson served as the women’s throws coach for the 1997 US World Championships team, and it will come as no surprise that the Oregon track and field team’s highest honor for women is the Lynne Winbigler Performer of the Year Award.

Ever modest, she acknowledges that a few Coach of the Year awards may have come her way, but for her, “It was just the athletes out in front and that's the way I liked it to be.”

Anderson remains an active member of Eugene’s vibrant track and field community, and recently served on the organizing committee of a reunion of University of Oregon varsity track and field alumni.

“1980 was my best,” she said, looking back. “I was the strongest and most fit.”

She tried retiring after 1980, but it was not yet meant to be.

“I started dreaming about throwing again!”

Though she knew her athletics career was coming to an end, she persisted through injury and the ’84 Trials, and then retired.

She was married to Colin Anderson, the 1979 US national indoor shot put champion, and had their son at age 40. She retired in 2013 and moved back to Eugene. Sadly, Colin Anderson passed away the next year. Her son and his family live with her now.

Anderson’s inspiring legacy lives on.

 She says:

“It was a good experience, a good run, a very special time of my life and I enjoyed all of it.”

“There were no fears, just fun.”

Epilogue: Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Forty-eight years after that evening at South Eugene High School, Anderson and I met in front of a display case at the University of Oregon’s Knight Library at an exhibit honoring the eight Olympic Trials hosted by Eugene.

We were there at my request to take pictures of her in front of one of the cases that features her in a well-known photo.

What was expected to be a fairly brief meeting became forty-five minutes of an engaging, retrospective reflection of a place, an era, a time.

What did I do the next day?

Went to Hayward Field and covered the women’s discus.

Thank you, Lynne.

Special thanks to 

Lynne Anderson 

for her multiple contributions to this story.

Photos by Mark Cullen

Newspaper from the Cullen Collection:

1 comment:

  1. Mark - can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your recaps and stories. Please tell me you are going to Paris!! -Jack