It is five weeks since Tom Petranoff threw a javelin 27 feet 2 inches beyond the 100-yard confines of a football field and he has had no trouble returning to earth. For the rest of the track and field world, his achievement is still out in left field.
The 6-foot-1 1/2, 215-pounder improved the world record by 10 feet and added 30 feet to his personal best. Almost before the spear landed at UCLA's Drake Stadium, an official of the International Amateur Athletics Federation had impounded it. Not long after, a television crew from Finland, cradle of javelin champions, was airborne, on its way to seek an explanation.
Petranoff, although his seven brief stays at various colleges have not resulted in a degree, has an easy time describing what happened in aerodynamic terms, a facility he credits to the fact that his father was an airline pilot.
"The conditions were ideal that day, with a slight head wind," Petranoff said. "Everybody thinks you need a tail wind to blow it farther, but it's not true. With a head wind, you can throw at a lower angle and the wind creates lift. It's like planes taking off into a head wind.
"On my world record, I had an angle of attack of 38 degrees and it went right through the point (full force in the desired direction) with no resistance. The speed of the javelin at release was 105 feet per second. Those are the conditions I have to simulate to throw 327 again."
Petranoff, 25, who will compete here Sunday in the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, has not approached 327 since the record, although he managed 307-6 in Eugene, Ore., two weeks ago. He has not thrown the same javelin, either.
"I just got the javelin out of hock two days ago from the IAAF," Petranoff said. "They impounded it and spent one month going over it with a fine tooth comb. It's a new javelin, but it's not a new design. It's been out since 1979.
"There's no secret potion or CO2 cartridges tied on the back. A design has to be available to everybody for three years before it can be used in an IAAF-permit meeting and this meets the requirements. The funny thing is, the day before the world record, it was accepted to the World Championships and the Olympic Games."
It would appear that Petranoff's achievement may have acted like Bob Beamon's 1968 long jump and removed the event from world-record possibilities for a while. He does not see it that way, however, and cites Bob Roggy, his chief opponent Sunday, and Detlef Michel, who will face him in the U.S.-East Germany dual meet June 25, as two throwers capable of 330 feet on any given day.
"Bob threw 314 last year in Germany with a tail wind and I think that could have been 330 under perfect conditions," Petranoff said. "Detlef Michel threw 317-4 not long ago, which equals the second best ever. Either one could beat my record.
"I expect a lot of people to figure that if I can do it, they can, too. I'm not going to be thinking about a new record every time I throw. What I'm looking for is consistency over 90 meters (295-3), hopefully hitting a big one now and then."
When Petranoff says he won't be thinking about records, he means it. He claims that thought on the runway can create a dangerous situation.
"Ninety percent of the preparation is mental when you're world class," Petranoff said. "To get a big throw, you have to relax and let it happen. You don't try to force things to happen.
"After most throws, I don't remember what I did (the previous rundown is from videotape). I stare at a point on the runway and take deep breaths through my stomach. Then I let my training fall together. But if you're thinking about it and try to force it, you could hurt yourself, or get off throws like washing machines."
Since the world record, Petranoff has been besieged by worldwide media, meet promoters and even a TV producer who wanted him to spend the month of July acting in a pilot for a new series.
"I like all the attention, but it gets old real fast telling the same story all the time, how I came off a baseball field at junior college and saw a guy throwing a javelin and asked to try it," Petranoff said. "I feel like turning on a tape recorder.
"It was real wild when the Finnish TV crew came over here to interview me. They're nuts about it over there. They're very knowledgeable and it really gets the adrenaline flowing when the crowd is into it with you.
"It's a funny thing about the meet promoters, though. Before I was the world record holder, most of them couldn't have cared if I showed up anywhere. Now they're falling over each other."
An exception was a promoter who was in Australia in January when Petranoff hit 297-2. Petranoff committed himself to a series of four meets in Scotland, Finland and Norway, starting June 26 in Edinburgh. Now Petranoff finds himself a likely entry in the U.S.-East Germany meet in Los Angeles June 25, which will make for some tight plane connections.
In fact, Petranoff's schedule is so busy that one member of the national coaching staff has predicted he will be physically unable to throw by the time the World Championships start Aug. 7.
"I was committed to the meet in Scotland and I stick to my word," Petranoff said. "It shouldn't be any problem. I'm a pretty durable thrower. Last year, I was in 23 meets and this is my 13th this year, counting the Australian tour. I'll be ready in August."