Larry Young began race walking after leaving the U.S. Navy in April 1965. It is a testament to Young’s achievement that, 39 years later, he remains prominent on the U.S. All Time Performers List: 10 th best for the 50K.
Young learned to race walk at a summer series of open meets at local high schools in New York. Having raced the half mile and mile in high school, he remained fascinated by the race walk. Once he tried it, he became instantly hooked. Competing at local races, he quickly improved his one-mile time to just under eight minutes. At one race he met walking greats Ron Laird and Don Denoon.
Young got invited to race at the Times and L.A. Invitationals—both very prestigious indoor meets at the time—and preceded to finish dead last at each. After the race, Laird and Denoon convinced Young to walk a 10-mile handicapped race at Rose Bowl Park. (Laird must have been passing on a tradition that Bruce MacDonald had passed on to him.) Having never raced more than a few miles, Young was apprehensive. He knew nothing about training for race walking and was pleasantly surprised to finish fourth. Although he felt sore for a few weeks, he began to wonder if his talent might rest with longer distances. He proved himself very clairvoyant.
Back in the Sixties, any athlete who had not won a Senior championship could compete at the Junior level. In 1966, Young won his first championship, the Junior 30K in Pamona, CA. Later that same year in Chicago, he won his first Senior national title: the 50K championship in 4:38.24. He followed this performance with another solid 50K at the 1967 Pan Am Games: 4:26:20.8, a U.S. record at the time. The performances gave Young the confidence he needed to qualify for the Olympic team. As he put it, “Why not get a medal?”
Young considers himself fortunate that the 1968 Olympics took place at altitude in very grueling conditions. The night before the race, Young (who was not favored to finish in the top 10) ran customary pre-race drills through his mind. Meanwhile, most other athletes failed to take environmental conditions into their race strategies. On race day, when event favorite Christopher Hohne took the pack out hard, Young knew his game plan would work. Walking slowly and steadily, he let the pack go ahead, and by 35K had begun to catch them one by one. As Young passed his competitors, he noted their fatigue and lack of focus. He earned a bronze medal, finishing at 4:31:55.
Young decided to take the next year off from training and improve his financial situation. He moved back to Missouri to live with his folks. At age 26 he earned a full race walking scholarship at Columbia College, where he studied art and specialized in sculpture.
Young not only repeated his bronze medal performance at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, but raced in the 20K as well. He jokes that he took part in two of the most controversial Olympics. But for once, race walking did not cause either crisis. Controversy continued to follow Young, eventually causing him to retire from competition. In 1980, he decided to hang up his sneakers when he learned the U.S. was going to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
No longer very active in the race walking world, Young today focuses his energies on sculpture. Amazingly, he holds great talents in two completely disparate fields.