Meet Olympic medalist turned renowned sculptor Larry Young

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — You may have walked by one of Larry Young’s sculptures, but it’s a given that you didn’t walk as fast as he can.

Young, now 81, was born in Independence. His family also lived in Orrick and Richmond before settling in Buckner, where he from Fort Osage High School in 1961.

He now lives on several acres south of Columbia with his wife Candy, who he met in college, and their dogs.

In between, he’s led an incredible life — winning multiple Olympic medals, witnessing some of the most iconic and tragic events in Olympic history, and becoming a noted sculptor with installations around the world.

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“It’s been quite the life, no doubt about it,” Young said at his house in Columbia. “I have no complaints. I could die tomorrow and I’d be a happy man.”

Larry Young two time Olympic medalist racewalking

Chase Lucas/KSHB

Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Larry Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.

Growing up in eastern Jackson County, Young wasn’t an avid artist nor an elite athlete, but he became both after learning to cast bronze in the Navy.

“We spent most of our time in San Diego tied up to a dock,” said Young, who was stationed on the USS Prairie, a destroyer tender. “All the destroyers would come tie up alongside of us and we’d take care of them. We had shops. It was just a ship of shops.”

The casting process is different than he uses in his art, aside from pouring the bronze or steel, but it honed his skills.

Now, Young has more than 50 sculptures installed across the world — from New York to Tokyo and Australia to Kansas City, including “Hope For Life” outside the Stowers Istitute.

Hope For Life sculpture by Larry Young

Chase Lucas/KSHB

“Hope For Life” by sculptor Larry Young outside the Stowers Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.

“He created two, sort of, nucleotide-type forms here,” said Candy, as she pointed to a small-scale version of the sculpture on display at their home. “But in the negative space, you once again see the image of a human.”

Larry added, “It captures the head of a human and the body in here, if you just look at the negative shape.”

Young took up modern dance while living in Southern California, which became central to his art.

“Because of my dance background, it was in my mind, it was in my body,” Young said. “Dance has projected in my artwork.”

Racewalking: ‘It’s kind of a weird sport’

Larry Young wide interview

Chase Lucas/KSHB

Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Larry Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.

Los Angeles also is where he first indulged another passion — racewalking.

“I saw it in the 1960 Olympics,” Young said. “The next day — I was in track then at Fort Osage — I went to school for football practice and I was just screwing around, mimicking what I’d seen on TV the day before.”

Upon seeing Young’s shenanigans, his coach bellowed, “Hey, Larry, you walk pretty fast. Let’s see what you walk 100 yards in.”

The coach pulled out his stopwatch.

“I had no idea whether I was walking legally or not — you know, there are rules in race walking — but he says, ‘Larry, you can walk almost as fast as you can run,’” Young recalled, “because I was not a fast runner. That’s why I ran the mile and the half-mile in track.”

Larry Young racewalking

Chase Lucas/KSHB

Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Larry Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.

After four years in the Navy, Young had moved to Los Angeles, where a friend introduced him to all-comer meets that were held at area high school tracks and open to all.

“I never got a chance to try (racewalking) again or anything until after I got out of the Navy, moved to LA and got in the summer all-comer meets,” Young said. “They always had a one-mile walk in those things, so I got in it — finished dead last, but I kept doing it.”

Despite finishing last, Young apparently made an impression.

“All the guys came up to me, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got talent; you need to stick with it,’” Young recalled. “There weren’t many racewalkers. Not too many people want to get into that for some reason. It’s kind of a weird sport, so I kept kind of doing it and gradually one thing led to another and I started entering AAU meets.”

Over time, Young started racewalking longer distances.

“You just kind of gradually work into it then you say, ‘Well, I think I can do that’ and you do it and try to get through it,” he said. “One thing leads to another and I saw I thought I probably had a little more talent at the long races than the short ones based on the competitions I’d been in.”

Larry Young Tod Palmer

Chase Lucas/KSHB

Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Larry Young’s (right) incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world. KSHB 41 News reporter spent May 17, 2024, discussing his journey at Young’s home south of Columbia, Missouri.

Young said he has never lost a sanctioned long-distance race on U.S. soil, including more than 30 gold medals from national championship and other AAU meets. He keeps all of his trophies, medals and other memorabilia — including the shoes Puma specifically designed with his input for the 1972 Olympics after he was invited to their factory — in a glass trophy case, tucked in a corner of his home.

“Fifteen years of racewalking all in one little cage there,” Young said. “… The one that really stands out in my mind is that 100-mile trophy there. I did it in 18 hours, 7 minutes and 12 seconds. It still stands, I think, as an American record.”

Unmatched Olympic success

Germany Munich 1972 Summer Olympics

AP

Peter Frenkel (326), East Germany, leads the 20 kilometers walk Summer Olympic Games event on Thursday, Aug. 31, 1972, in Munich, Germany, flanked by Larry Young (1035), United States at left and Paul Nihill (301) Great Britain. Frenkel took the gold medal with a time of 1:26:42.

Two medals arguably stand out more — one is a bronze medal for the 50-kilometer racewalk at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

“Of course I was shooting for a medal — absolutely,” Young said of whether he expected to nab some hardware. “I can’t imagine anybody going in there unless they’re going for the gold.”

Young won another bronze in the 50K walk at the 1972 Munich Games. He remains the only U.S. athlete ever to medal in long-distance racewalking.

Germany Munich 1972 Summer Olympics

Peter Hillebrecht/AP

Gold medal winner Bernd Kannenberg of West Germany, waves during the awarding ceremony of the 50 kilometers Summer Olympic Games walk event on September 4, 1972, in Munich, Germany. At left, silver medal winner Veniamin Soldatenko, USSR, bronze medal winner Larry Young of the United States, at right.

“One of the racewalkers after the race (in 1968), they were talking about it and he says, ‘Oh, it was a fluke. It was a fluke,’” Young recalled. “I’ll never forget it after the ’72 race. I go up to him and say, ‘Well, Tom, there’s another fluke for you.’”

Those two Olympics are remembered most for controversy and tragedy.

Young was in the stadium when Tommie Smith and John Carlos each donned a black glove and put a fist in the air — a Black power salute — on the podium during medal ceremony for the 200-meter dash.

“It was a shock to all of us,” said Young, who said he considers Smith and Carlos friends. “I didn’t know that that’s what they were going to do. I had mixed emotions about it at the beginning, because politics are not supposed to enter the Olympics. But they had something to say and that was the way to get it said, and it made a big impact.”

Athlete Protests

AP

FILE – In this Oct. 16, 1968, file photo, extending gloved hands skyward in protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the national anthem after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze in the men’s 200 meters at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is on the left. In a major shift in policy, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee committed to not sanction athletes who use their platform for social demonstrations. The USOPC stance sets up the possibility for conflict and confusion at the Tokyo Games, where the IOC will be in charge. (AP Photo)

Young also was in the Olympic Village when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and eventually killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

It was the day after his race and Young was headed out for a walk to loosen up when he heard the news from a teammate as he headed out the door at their dorm.

“I said, ‘What? Are you kidding me? This is the Olympic Village,’” Young said. “I kind of didn’t believe him, you know what I mean? I walked out the door, looked to my right, and there’s the guy with a mask over his head with a BAR or whatever it was, a gun in his hand. He could have shot me right there.”

Unusual Olympics

Kurt Strumpf/AP

FILE – In this Sept. 5, 1972, file photo, a member of the Arab Commando group which seized members of the Israeli Olympic Team at their quarters at the Munich Olympic Village, appears with a hood over his face on the balcony of the village building where the commandos held members of the Israeli team hostage. Being an Olympics like no other, and this year’s Tokyo Games will surely be that, isn’t such a rarity for an event that has persevered through wars, boycotts and even a pandemic over its 125-year modern history. Tragedy has also marked the Olympics, most notably when 11 members of the Israeli team were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September at the 1972 Munich Games and when a bomb exploded in the Olympic Park at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

In response, the International Olympic Committee pared down its program for the 1976 Montreal Games, including cutting the 50K racewalk, which ended Young’s Olympic journey.

He also won two gold medals at the Pan American Games and was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

An artist’s life

Larry Young grinding

Chase Lucs/KSHB

Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Larry Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.

Young had returned to the Kansas City area and started a foundry in his parents’ garage in the late 1960s.

He started a new adventure in 1971 when Columbia College President W. Merle Hill called and offered him a full-ride scholarship to join the racewalking team.

The small NAIA school in mid-Missouri had gone coed a year earlier and Hill was trying some innovative — and controversial by Columbia College’s standards — things.

“That was the beginning of my art career,” Young said. “I took art classes under Sid Larson, who was the director of the department and he became my mentor.”

Larry Young sculpting

Chase Lucas/KSHB

Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Larry Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.

Young’s relationship with Larson became the most important in his life aside from his immediate family — including his parents, Candy and their children.

“He kind of took me under his wing,” Young said. “I guess he saw I had a little talent and one thing led to another.”

Young quickly discovered he had more talent for sculpting than drawing, so Columbia hired Bill Williams, who specialized in sculpture, to help teach and nurture Young. Together they built a foundry at the college.

After graduating, Young received a two-year grant to study sculpture in Italy, where he learned about the enlarging process that has allowed him to make some of the grand sculptures on display around the world.

The Dance Larry Young

Chase Lucas/KSHB

“The Dance” by Larry Young is among the permanent sculptures at the Wandell Sculpture Garden in Urbana, Illinois. Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.
Tango-Larry-Young-scaled.jpg

Courtesy of The Urbana Parks Foundation

“The Tango” by Larry Young is among the permanent sculptures at the Wandell Sculpture Garden in Urbana, Illinois. Born in Independence and raised in Buckner, Young’s incredible life includes two Olympic medals for racewalking and a renowned career as a sculptor with installations around the world.

“The Dance” and “The Tango” are among his most commercially successful pieces, but Young also has made gargantuan steel sculptures, including “Synergy” outside the Marriott Headquarters in Maryland and “Hope For Life” outside the Stowers Institute in Kansas City.

His “Cosmic Portal” — a wispy ribbon of steel that stands 22 feet high, 24 feet wide and 10 feet deep — will be installed in downtown Columbia later this year.

Young’s work is noted for its imaginative interpretations of the human form, fluidity, and use of negative space as well as the impeccable attention and effort he puts into the finishes for his sculptures.

“I guess I have that something in my head or in my mind and in my body that — perseverance, whatever it is perseverance — and I know good and well that the racewalking had a lot to do with my perseverance in sculpture,” Young said. “No doubt about it.”