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"When he graduates, we're going to realize how little shotputters really look," track coach Bill McCurdy said. When asked for further comment about this year's track captain, senior Dick Benka, McCurdy exclaimed, "He's a damned monster!"
Benka has used his bulk to put the 16 1b. shot farther than any previous Harvard man as well as farther than any other collegian in the East this year. This weekend, he will try to add the NCAA championship to the IC4A crown he successfully defended last Saturday.
Benka's development as a shotputter has been spectacular. Harvard's track coaches hadn't heard much about him before he showed up as a freshman at an organizational meeting for track. When he walked over to field events coach Ed Stowell, Stowell said. "Who the hell are you? God, you're big!"
Despite Benka's 6'77", 235-pound frame Stowell did not think he could be a top-ranked shotputter--until his sophomore year, when Dick uncorked a 54' heave in the indoor Heptagonal meet. The put went nearly four feet farther than his best freshman effort, but was far short of the 61' 5 3/4" throw which gave him his second straight Heptagonal indoor title this year.
Stowell and Benka both feel that his period of real improvement came with Benka's change in attitude during his junior year, when he first began to practice and work out regularly.
He's a Killer
Despite the fact that his high school track coach said that he lacked a "killer attitude," Benka still seems to perform best when under pressure. He went into last week's IC4A's with a sprained ankle and came out with a winning throw more than a foot better than his closest rival's.
In last week's NCAA, he went in ranked seventh and came out with third and an All-America rating. His third place put was especially remarkable considering the severe cold and bloody nose he had at the time. This year, he is in good health and is ranked fourth.
Benka feels that the greatest moment of his track career was at the Heps this year in his capacity as team captain. "The most exciting thing wasn't the 61' throw, but seeing Harvard win the Heps," he stated. This spring, Benka will add the discus throw to his chores as captain and shotputter.
Benka has been a weight man since the beginning of his track career. "It was pretty much pre-ordained that I'd be a weight man," he said, 'I was the second slowest in my ninth grade gym class." He still relies on size and leverage more than on speed to impart momentum to the shot.
In addition to the IC4A, Heptagonal and Big Three titles that Benka has won at Harvard, he is also a former holder of the Wisconsin Catholic high school shot and discus titles.
Benka, who now weighs 275 pounds, is by almost any standards a big man. But, he says he would still like to put on a few more pounds. He's six pounds short of getting a draft deferment.
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