FORT MYERS, Fla. - Al Oerter was an abstract artist who also happened to be pretty good at the discus. So good, in fact, that he won gold medals in four straight Olympics to become one of track and field's biggest stars in the 1950s and 1960s.
Oerter died in 2007, but his final Olympic effort will be headed to the Beijing Games this week.
"Art of the Olympians," an exhibit of work from some of the world's greatest athletes, is expected to open in China on Friday. About 30 pieces of art were transported from the show's home in Fort Myers, where Oerter's family plans to open a permanent gallery for the works next year.
"It's going to be amazing," Oerter's widow, Cathy, said shortly before the exhibit temporarily closed in Fort Myers in June. "We're going to get wrestlers and rowers. That's going to be what's interesting - trying to get every sport, every country."
"And different forms of art," Oerter's daughter, Gabrielle, said. "I would love to have musicians. We have one poet already."
"Art of the Olympians" is a multisport, multinational effort to help restore an Olympic ideal of a complete person - a good citizen with a fine athletic talent who is also in touch with his or her creative and intellectual muses, Cathy Oerter said. Shows have already been held at the United Nations, the New York Athletic Club, and the National Arts Club in New York.
"It's the creative nature that's deep-seated within your being," Cathy Oerter said. "It defines who you are. Now they do it, of course, and it shows through athletics, but they also have this creative side that shows in this beautiful artwork that lasts forever. The athletic part is momentary, but this is something they can make last forever."
A copy of a work by British javelin thrower Roald Bradstock - a series of bright horizontal stripes over the silhouetted shadow of an equestrian jumper - is headed to Beijing. So are copies of Australian swimmer Shane Gould's photographs, which show the movement of water, air, and energy created by swimmers.
"Athletes have a keen sense of physics, in nature particularly," Gould said. "We're always up against the elements of gravity, air - just the thickness of air. And then for swimmers, the water, all the forces in the water. That causes you to have quite a strong connection to nature. With that sensitivity to it, you have to be creative in how you use those forces."
Bradstock's work is meant to convey how the repetition of practice is a part of the sport. An image of the sport - in this case, a horse and jumper - is still visible, and the painting captures how the exercises and movements make an athlete better.
"Repetition is a way of showing that, and showing effort. At the same time, I try and remove and get away from individual athletes," Bradstock said. "I try and focus on the actual sport, the movement. So for the runner and swimmer, I want to get a feel of what it feels like. For me, the biggest compliment is when athletes come up to me and say, 'That's what it feels like.' "
Al Oerter's abstract works are flurries of color - magentas and greens and violets and golds - some created with the impact of his discus. They will eventually hang in the Fort Myers gallery with paintings by American sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner, a three-time gold medalist at the 1988 Games. Swiss fencer Jean Blaise Evéquoz has contributed his work, and Liston Bochette III, who competed in four Winter Games and two Summer Olympics for Puerto Rico, displays drawings that reflect Olympic themes.
"Even if you took the Olympics out of it, this would be a fascinating show," Gabrielle Oerter said. "It's not that we are saying, 'Because you're an Olympic athlete, your artwork doesn't have to be nearly as good.' The artwork is as good, and it deserves to be an exhibit. It's really excellent work, and it just celebrates what you can do."
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