A woman shot-putter under any circumstances is an unusual sight. This one is 6'2" and muscular; she is dressed in black tights, yellow T-shirt and hoop earrings. Teenage girls warming up on the San Jose City College track slow down to stare; so does a jogger wearing a radio headset. Maren Seidler steps into the circle, then whirls into her toss. It's disappointing. "Oh, yuck," she mutters.
That practice throw notwithstanding, Seidler at 27 is the best in the country at her strenuous sport. She holds the U.S. indoor (61'2½") and outdoor (62'3¼") records and has won nine outdoor championships since 1967. But she lost at the national indoor meet in February at Madison Square Garden to her West German buddy Trixi Philipp. European women have, in fact, long dominated the event. At three Olympics Seidler's best finish was 11th in 1968; she now ranks 20th in the world. The world record, 73'2", was set by a Czech. (The men's record is 73'2¾", but they use a 16-pound steel ball while the women's is 8.8 pounds.) "European women," Seidler says, "have the social sanction to excel in this sport. In this country throwing the shot has some sort of negative connotation."
Seidler indeed finds competition scarce at American meets, and for much of her career her only coach was her father. While she grew up in Brooklyn, her dad, Walter (6'9" and a former Long Island University basketball player), and her mother, Jan (5'9½" and once a phys ed teacher), were "sun worshipers and swimmers." Realizing that "for some girls, being tall can be an awful thing," Walter Seidler told his daughters "to take pride in their height." (Maren's sister Carol is 6'3½".) When Maren was 13, her father introduced her to the shot. "You see this little round ball?" he told her. "If you become good at this you'll be able to travel all over the world."
Soon after Maren began competing, she broke the U.S. record for her age group by six feet. "I thought, 'Oh, this is fun,' " she recalls. After high school came a B.A. in anthropology at Tufts. But in 1973 Seidler mothballed her academic specialty and moved to San Jose to be near track-and-field colleagues. (A copy clerk's job at the San Jose Mercury News allows her time off to train.)
About two years ago she analyzed her commitment to her sport. "I was lackadaisical," she says. "I'd work very hard for five or six weeks before a championship, but it was a half-assed approach." So, borrowing $1,500 from her dad, Seidler went to Munich to train with West German women's coach Christian Gehrmann. In six months Maren lost 25 pounds (she won't say what her present weight is) while increasing her throwing distance almost five feet. That Christmas Mercury News friends chipped in to help subsidize her training, and later the U.S. Olympic committee added a small expense check.
Like most American amateur athletes, Seidler is used to sacrifice. "People care only every four years," she observes—but without rancor. Her hillside house in Los Gatos is short on furniture, and Maren scrimps to keep herself in protein as well as a "bottle or two of beer after a workout." Though she's not dating anyone seriously now, she buddies with champions like Mac Wilkins (discus), Kate Schmidt (javelin) and Al Feuerbach (shot put).
Her short-term goal is the U.S. outdoor championship in mid-June. She has finished first in three meets this season and is currently in Germany for a month's training with Gehrmann. In the long run, she's aiming at the 1980 Olympics, not to mention 1984 and 1988. "The woman who won in 1976 was 36 years old," grins Maren. "In this sport, you're better at 30 than you are at 20."
Why would a woman want to put the shot? 'I just like to do what I'm good at'