Did Tony Harlin put his heart and soul into shot-putting? That’s like asking if Paul Bunyan
knew how to handle an ax. Harlin sliced a mean swath through his field en route to the greatest shot-putting career any Rocklander has ever produced. The pinnacle of his career came in 1984, when he finished fifth in the U.S. Olympic Trials and missed a berth in the Olympic Games by just two places. It remains the highest finish in Olympic-sports competition of any Nanuet High School alumnus. The 6 foot 21/2-inch man-mountain, who weighed anywhere from 240 to 300 pounds during his competitive career, burned with a fiery passion that manifested itself in statements like: “shot putting is one thing I can always do, and I’ll do it till I die.” Or, back in 1984 when he was aiming for the shot at the Olympics in Los Angeles: “If I don’t make the Olympics, I’ll find a meet that day. If there are no meets around, I’ll go out and throw in the woods.” Or, after he had suffered a broken breastbone and damaged chest cartilage when a 500-pound barbell fell on his chest while wightlifting: “I guess I’m like an English bulldog. I’m stubborn. I always have to try that one more time.” That’s classic Tony Harlin. Give him that heavy steel ball-12 pounds for high school, 16 pounds for college and open-and watch him unleash a few more of his trademark, high-arcing heaves.
During a career that spanned two decades, Harlin barreled through the high school, college and open ranks like the Incredible Hulk on a rampage. It all began innocently enough, when he was cut from the basketball team his freshman year at Nanuet. As Harlin remembers it, Ed Denton, who was an industrial arts teacher at the school as well as the weights coach for the track team, asked him to forget basketball and give the shot put a try. Harlin’s response: “Shot put? What the hell is that?”
After some good-natured coaxing, Harlin accepted Denton’s offer-and was eternally grateful for it. “He told us we’d have a lot fun, and we did,” Harlin says. “I couldn’t wait to see what he would do the next day” to keep things interesting. Harlin combined natural strength, speed and flexibility to make an indelible imprint on high school shot-putting. His scholastic accomplishments include the following:
• As a senior at Nanuet, he was the 1976 New York State indoor (winter) track champion, and came within a quarter-inch of the spring track state title, finishing runner-up despite competing with a partially separated shoulder.
• He’s the Rockland County scholastic record holder at 66 feet 1/2 inch, which ranks him fourth on the all-time New York State list in that event. His best indoor track mark of 62 feet 41/4 inches ranks eighth all-time in New York State.
• He’s a six-time Rockland County champion and four-time Section 9 Class B titleholder.
• He placed third in the Golden West Invitational national scholastic meet in California, then the premier high school meet in the country.
• He finished third in the U.S. Junior National championships.
• He won shot-put titles at the prestigious Penn Relays, New York Relays, Iona Relay and Hartford Invitational.
• Harlin was no slouch in the discus, either. He broke a 25-year-old Rockland County record in 1975, with a throw of 166 feet 11 inches. That mark still ranks sixth on the all-time Rockland County list. As a senior he won Rockland County and Section 9 Class B titles in this event.
After graduating from Nanuet, Harlin enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where he spent one year and set the school’s freshman shot-put record. But his collegiate career really took off when he transferred to Manhattan College, where he won six IC4A (Eastern) titles and captured several other major invitationals.
After college, Harlin continued to train and overcame a series of injuries and other setbacks to become on of the better throwers in the country. He won the Metropolitan Athletics Congress championship eight times, besting the top throwers in the New York metro area. Seven times he walked away with the gold medal at the Empire State Games, and Olympic-style competition for New York state residents. He’s still the Games’ record-holder in the shot put. In addition, Harlin holds the Rockland County record for the 16-pound shot, at 68 feet 7 inches. In his last major competition, he finished 11th in the 1992 U.S. Olympics Trials.These days, Harlin, who’s 48, lives in Pearl River, and works as a laser technician at Chromalloy in Orangeburg. His job involves drilling and welding to recondition jet engine parts. Tony has two children: James, 21, a junior at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J.; and Amanda, 15, a freshmen at Northern Highlands High School in New Jersey.