Michelle Carter can still see her father’s raised eyebrows and feel the heavy current of his deep, concerning sigh.
The American women’s record holder in the shot put, Carter recalled coming home as a seventh-grader in Texas, seeking answers to the stories she heard of the prodigious shot put efforts of her famous father, Michael.
She wanted to know of his unfathomable 80-foot-plus heave in Sacramento at the 1979 Golden West Invitational that left track and field historians – then and now – to deem it the greatest prep effort of the 20th century. She wondered of his seven national championships at SMU, his 1984 Olympic silver medal, his three Super Bowl rings as a nimble, run-stuffing nose guard for the 49ers.
Michelle Carter wanted to continue the family tradition, to spin and unleash an iron ball into the air.
“I’ll always remember dad questioning me up and down: ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ ” Carter recalled on the phone Friday from Texas. “I didn’t know he was so good, but he’s a legend. I knew once I got into shot putting, there would be pressure because of what he accomplished, but I wanted to try to find out. I had to.”
Carter never looked back, and her father has been there for every toss as her coach. Blessed with her father’s speed, technique and tenacity – if not his strength – Carter has been on the national shot put scene for a decade. She enjoyed her finest moment a year ago when she uncorked a 66-foot, 5-inch effort at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, to set the U.S. record. Now she craves a repeat. Carter looms as the favorite Wednesday at the state Capitol.
Already a two-time Olympian, Carter, 28, is in the midst of a career that makes her father proud and emotional. She is a two-time USA Indoor champion and a four-time USA Outdoor champion. And the momentum, much like for her father a generation ago, started in Sacramento. She won the Golden West championship in 2002 and the NCAA title with Texas at Sacramento State in 2006. So yes, the family looks forward to a return visit.
“Oh yes, Sacramento has always been a special place to us,” Michael Carter said from his Texas home. “Some great, fond memories, and Michelle has a chance for more. I’m so proud of her.”
Michael Carter said he wanted his children to find their own athletic path.
“I didn’t want to burden them with my accolades,” he said. “I didn’t want them to grow up in a house with all my trophies and medals. So we never put them up. But once Michelle got started, we really went for it.”
Michael Carter said his daughter is still improving. He said with more strength, she can someday reach the Olympic medal stand. And more motivation: No American female shot putter has won a medal in the Olympics since Earlene Brown took the bronze in 1960.
“I’m definitely going for it, and knowing that statistic about American shot putters makes it even a greater challenge,” Michelle Carter said. “I have a chance to help change history for our sport.”
And there’s this matter of family pride.
“Oh, I know for me to really beat my dad, I have to get Olympic gold, then he’ll know,” she said with a laugh, adding their track bond is unique. “It’s special. I get to spend all this time with my dad, and who knows me better? No one understands me more than dad, what I’m capable of. He inspires me.”
Words motivated Michael Carter on the eve of his epic performance at the Golden West, the nation’s premier prep track event in 1979. A senior from Jefferson High School in Dallas, Carter got an extra boost from his girlfriend, Sandra, now his wife, who said, “Give me an 80.”
The GWI will be held at Sac State on Saturday in conjunction with the USA meet, and no GWI goes by without mention of Michael Carter. His still-standing prep record of 81-31/2 landed over the out-of-bounds logs, well past his previous best of 77-0. It was described as “Beamonesque” in reference to Bob Beamon’s 29-21/2 world-record long jump in the 1968 Olympics.
Decades-long track announcer Bob Jarvis said years later: “What Carter did at the GWI, I consider the greatest high school performance ever. It’s not even close.”
Michael Carter still embraces that moment as a career highlight.
“Everything was clicking, and I was rested and relaxed and ready,” he said. “What a way to go out on my final high school throw. They wanted me to take a victory lap. I told them it was too far. So I waved the little American flag. I’m getting older, and I may forget some things, but the Golden West is one thing I’ll never forget.”
Michael Carter still owns nine of the longest throws in prep history. Olympians then and now cannot fathom tossing a 12-pound shot more than 81 feet. One-time national prep record holder Sam Walker of Dallas once said: “I’ll be 7 feet under before anyone throws 81 feet again.”
Michael Carter won three NCAA Outdoor and four Indoor championships at SMU with a 16-pound shot. He also excelled in football, which awarded him more riches in the NFL over nine seasons with the 49ers than the professional track circuit would have offered. But football came at a cost. Carter in recent years had both knees and a hip replaced. He was on crutches, then used a cane or a walker. He still navigates stairs carefully. He also needs both shoulders replaced.
“You live in Texas, and it’s football country, but track and field is what my dad loved the most,” Michelle Carter said. “So I’m doing a lot of this for my dad. The travel, the experiences, it’s a full experience.”
Had Michael Carter concentrated only on track, he said he might have set the world record. Randy Barnes holds the mark at 75-101/4, set in 1990, though his career was marred by banned substances. Michael Carter regularly put the shot in the low 70s. His knees were tender in the 1984 Olympics when he took the silver medal with a 69-21/2 effort, and sore legs make for less-than-stellar throws.
“All the injuries from football, ask me if it’s worth it,” Michael Carter said. “If I could do it all over again, the answer would be yes. And that includes my kids.”
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.