Most science teachers can give their students the definition of
horsepower--one unit is generated when 550 pounds is moved one
foot in one second. But few teachers could demonstrate this by
actually moving 550 pounds with their own brute strength. One
exception: George Frenn, a former Olympic hammer thrower who
recently retired after 32 years of teaching science in several
California high schools. He leaves the profession sounding
burned out, tired of failing to reach students who showed little
interest in the sciences. When he did his horsepower
demonstration, for instance (now 60, he hasn't done it in
years), the students paid it little mind. "They're all ho-hum,"
he says. "They'd blow it off."
Frenn, who was born in San Fernando, took up the hammer throw
toward the end of high school in 1959 and continued through 1978.
He competed at the 1972 Olympics, coming in 27th out of 32, and
set world records (since broken) in the 35- and 56-pound weight
throws. He now lives in Sacramento in a two-bedroom apartment
cluttered with Geiger counters, spectroscopes and other science
equipment he bought to spruce up classes he taught at underfunded
Despite competing in a low-profile sport, Frenn got his share of
attention in his heyday. He publicly petitioned then President
Nixon to give as much attention to track and field as he did to
football, and in 1972 Frenn issued a $10,000 challenge (which
went unanswered) to anyone who could beat him in the weight
throw. The deed that drew the most notice, however, is one he
deeply regrets. In 1982 he agreed to carry the Olympic flag into
San Francisco's Cox Stadium at the inaugural Gay Olympic Games,
which he calls "the biggest mistake of my life." Frenn says he
isn't gay--he agreed to participate at the request of organizer
Tom Waddell, a friend and fellow Olympian. "I always had been a
loner and done whatever I wanted, so I said yes." But after the
games people, including his students, had a hard time believing
he wasn't gay. The controversy, he says, contributed to his
leaving a teaching job. "All it did was wreck my reputation," he
Frenn, now with time on his hands, recently purchased a high-end
Sony camcorder. He wants to go to the Middle East and make a
film that might somehow aid the cause of peace in the region.
(Frenn is of Lebanese descent.) It's an optimistic goal for a
man who has seen some unhappy times. When contacted by SI, he
remarked, "You know, I don't believe in the [SI cover] curse,
but some days I almost do." --Bill Syken
COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON (COVER) NAILING IT A 1972 Olympian, Frenn set four world weight throw records.
COLOR PHOTO: COREY RICH Frenn taught high school science for 32 years; now he wants to go to the Middle East to make a film.