Last night, Elliott Denman reminded me about a very special person, the late Bob Roggy. A wonderful athlete, probably the best javelin thrower this country has ever seen, who died tragically, in his prime. I asked Elliott to write about a man who made many stand in awe as he threw the javelin, and who, as Elliott reminds us, had the star quality and humor similar to
former Duck, Steve Prefontaine.
Tell us what you think about Bob Roggy, one of our country’s great javelin throwers…..
By Elliott Denman
June 28, 2012
The shadow of Steve Prefontaine hovers all over “Tracktown USA.”
Thirty-seven years after his passing, the great “Pre” – who left us on the 30th of May 1975, the victim of a horrendous auto accident – eerily seems to be more alive than ever.
At age 24, “Pre,” holder of American distance running records at seven different distances, who dared to challenge the notion that American distance runners were inherently inferior to their rivals from other continents, who placed fourth in the 1972 Olympic 5,000-meter final after brashly barging into the lead with a lap to go, who surely would-have-been, could-have-been a top threat to claim gold at the Montreal Games of 1976, was taken away.
All these years later, it often seems that American ambitions in the distance running game have never caught up to the lofty, gutsy, go-for-it-no-matter-what mindset that “Pre,” the kid from Coos Bay, displayed to all of us.
Just a handful of Americans since – of the current crop only Bernard Lagat and Galen Rupp – really rank up to his standard.
Still, the spirit of “Pre” lives on in so many ways – the annual Prefontaine Classic Track and Field Meet, the images of “Pre” – some at 20 times life-size – seen everywhere around Eugene, the total veneration he commands within the inner circles of the Nike Co.
And now to digress.
And now to remind you of another magnificent world-class young man, Bob Roggy, who also left us far too early, also the victim of an horrendous auto-related accident.
And now to make the case that Bob Roggy deserves the same kind of “Pre” veneration.
Bob Roggy of Holmdel, New Jersey, Southern Illinois University, and yes, the Nike-sponsored Athletics West club team, actually ranked higher internationally in his event, the javelin throw, than “Pre” did in his own specialty.
Roggy demolished the NCAA javelin throw record as a Southern Illinois senior. He demolished the American record in the javelin throw with an incredible throw of 314 feet, 4 inches in 1982. He gained the number one world ranking. He looked wonderful on the cover of Track and Field News, and in the pages of Sports Illustrated.
He – with countryman Tom Petranoff, and a few more beyond the USA – threw the “old” javelin so far – imagine, just imagine this, the length of a football field and a good chunk of the end zone, too – that the top brass of the IAAF soon saw that the implement itself needed revision, lest it fly so far it might wind up in the seats at the far opposite end of some stadium, and spear some unfortunate spectators.
So the IAAF came up with a “new” javelin with a revised center of gravity, designed to keep the event within the bounds of track-fan safety.
You’ll still see some some “Stop Pre” t-shirts worn by Trials-goers scattered around the Hayward Field stands.
But the IAAF really did “Stop Bob.”
They told us he was throwing his spear so darn far he’d be apt – someday, with the wind just right, and the atmospherics in place – to plant one in the grandstands.
With the change, the old ranking lists for the “old” javelin were removed from most record books.
Anyone checking current editions of statistical media guides will not even see the name Bob Roggy.
Imagine/imagine – it’s as if Bob Roggy’s throw of 314-4 was science fiction of the most way-out variety, as if it never actually happened.
So both the IAAF and the statskeepers really did “Stop Bob.”
Bob Roggy died in early August 1986, just a few hours after competing in the javelin at the US Olympic Sports Festival in Houston, Texas.
It was a simply horrendous moment, simply inexplicable, simply “just one of those things” of life.
Standing in the back of a pickup truck heading back to a University of Houston dormitory, he lost his balance as the truck went over a speed bump at slow speed. He fell from the truck, his head struck the pavement, and Bob Roggy was soon gone, just a few days shy of his 30th birthday.
Friends back in New Jersey organized the Bob Roggy Memorial Track and Field Meet at his old school, Holmdel High, in the summer of 1987. Track friends from around the nation flew in to compete – and show their own support.
The Holmdel Stadium is now named The Bob Roggy Memorial. The javelin he sent on its mighty American-record journey of 314-4 is now on display in his school’s entrance lobby.
That first meet was a major success and drew a beyond-capacity crowd of over 7,000. The meet – now named The New Jersey International – has continued on for 26 years and this June’s event produced several Olympic Trials “A” qualifying marks.
It’s a “nice little meet” that has never gotten big – beyond the inner circles of the track and field community.
An East Coast version of the Prefontaine Classic it could easily be.
But no major sponsors have ever shown the interest to make it that, or even something close.
The Nike Co., reminded several times that Bob Roggy was once a Nike man, has always looked the other way.
Wouldn’t seem to fit into their marketing plans, apparently.
Wouldn’t cause a run on javelin-boot sales, that’s for sure.
Wouldn’t generate the “hype” necessary for an even modest level of support, they infer.
The Prefontaine Classic budget apparently is well into the millions.
The New Jersey International Meet budget, at last glance, was all of about $4,500.
Ask a typical Trials-goer this:
“Who was Bob Roggy?”
And a likely answer would be “Bob who?”
Surely, the New Jersey International Meet will continue on, doing the very best it can, with whatever it can, as best it can.
And the spirit of Bob Roggy will live on, too, in the hearts and minds of those who knew him and cherish his memory.
To them, he is “Our Pre.”
They know that, in a sense, Bob Roggy did everything “Pre” did. And, in another sense, more.
They certainly don’t like comparing equally horrific deaths of young men at the top of their respective games.
But, especially to those in this small group here in “Tracktown USA,” they are really/really bothered when the question is asked:
“Who Was Bob Roggy?”
And they get another question in response: