Michelle Carter, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in shot put, is scheduled to compete Saturday in the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships at Sacramento State. She will be accompanied by her father and coach, Michael, for whom the place awakens memories nearly four decades old of a transcendental moment in the sport’s past.
Michael Carter, the former 49ers star lineman, has his own history at Hornet Stadium.
At the 1979 Golden West Invitational, Carter set a national high school record in the shot put by throwing the 12-pound ball 81 feet, 3 1/2 inches. It shattered the previous record by more than four feet and remains untouched 38 years later.
Bob Jarvis, a retired Sacramento attorney, was announcing the action at the Golden West that day. “All my track and field buddies, who are very knowledgeable about high school track, consider it to be the greatest single high school performance ever,” Jarvis said.
Carter went on to win a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles – and a Super Bowl that season as a nose tackle for the 49ers. He played nine seasons in the NFL, all with the 49ers, appearing in three Pro Bowls and winning two more rings.
Yet Michelle Carter, born in October 1985, grew up knowing little about Michael’s shot-putting exploits. It wasn’t until seventh grade, when a junior high school coach asked her if she’d be interested in going out for track and field.
“I came home, asked my dad, and he was like, ‘Well, um …’ ” Michelle said.
“I thought someone had put her up to it,” Michael said. “You come to our house, you’re not going to find pictures of me throwing or playing football – none of that on the walls. So she didn’t know much about track and field, what I did.”
Before Carter arrived at Jefferson High School in Dallas, the high school shot put record stood at 72 feet, 3 1/4 inches. Carter had already broken that mark several times by June 16, 1979, the day of the Golden West Invitational. But he still recalled a buzz around the meet and his event, as people wondered how much farther he might go.
It was going to be Carter’s last throw in high school, and he planned to take aim at the national mark of 77 feet he’d set earlier that year. The night before the meet, he called his girlfriend, Sandra, who is now his wife.
“Right before I got off the phone with her, she said, ‘Throw 80 feet for me,’ ” Carter said. “And I said, ‘OK.’ So I just made it my goal to throw 80 feet that day.”
Carter’s first few throws did not come particularly close. One came out of his hand funny and went about 67 feet. He fouled on another. As he set up for his final attempt, the 800-meter race was just reaching an exciting finish, so Carter asked for and was given permission to step out of the circle and start over. When he stepped back in, all eyes were on him.
“I knew all the pressure was on me,” Carter said. “I came across the ring and I exploded through the shot. I knew it was a good one, but I didn’t know where it was going to land. So I turned around quick in the ring just to see where it would land.”
In those days, Jarvis recalled, a small American flag was placed in the ground to mark the existing national record. Carter’s throw blew past it by more than 4 feet.
“You were just sort of stunned,” Jarvis said. “You think about that, you add 4-3 1/2 to the prior national best in that event, that’s monstrous as a percentage of increase.”
Later, after he became Michelle’s coach, Carter said the two often talked about the importance of that last throw in a competition. And then came last summer and the Olympic Games.
Recovered from a herniated disc she’d suffered in spring, Michelle Carter arrived in Rio intent on competing for a medal. But as she came up for her final throw, New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, the two-time reigning gold medalist, led the field by nearly 2 feet with a top throw of 67 feet.
Carter stepped in and unleashed 67-8 1/4 . It was a new American record. And it won her gold, making her the first U.S. woman to medal in the shot put since 1960.
“It was kind of like I felt relieved,” Michelle Carter said. “I’d been working for a long time and always had this goal that I could win gold. But sometimes you have goals and you never know if they’re going to happen or not.”
Team USA reported the Carters were the nation’s first father-daughter combination to both win medals at the Olympics. Michelle said the fact comes up “quite often.”
“I’ve been at some of the same meets he (competed) at, and at some stadiums we might even hold the same record,” said Michelle, who this weekend is trying to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in August in London. “I think that makes him really proud.”
Michael Carter said he was “elated” by Michelle’s win in Rio, happy to have company on the family podium.
“My dad always told me that the only way I could beat him is to get the gold medal,” Michelle Carter said. “So mission accomplished.”
Said Michael: “She teases me all the time. She says, ‘Dad, I got you.’ I say ‘That’s fine, but guess what?’
“She says, ‘What?’ I say, ‘Now you’ve got to coach a gold medalist to top that.’ ”
USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships
Where: Sacramento State
Tickets: $18-$25 daily; sacsports.com or at the box office
TV: Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN; Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 3