Dave Laut competed with fierce power against the world’s strongest men in track and field, but the athletes who trained with him in Santa Barbara remember him as a gentle and fun-loving person.
Laut, an Olympic bronze medalist in the shot put, was shot to death last Thursday night by an unknown assailant in the backyard of his Oxnard home. He was 52 years old.
There will be a public memorial on Saturday, September 5, at 2 p.m. in the Hueneme High gymnasium at 500 W. Bard Road in Oxnard. Laut was the athletic director at Hueneme.
The circumstances of Laut’s death compounded the shock and sadness among his friends in the athletic community. “What an awful, tragic, waste of a precious life,” wrote Anne Widenfelt Appleyard in an e-mail. She belonged to a colony of athletes who worked out at UCSB under the tutelage of Sam Adams, the university’s track and field coach who was known for his expertise in the multi-events (decathlon and heptathlon) and particularly the shot put, discus and javelin throws.
Decathlete Ron Wopat said Laut was “a really easy-going friendly guy that I enjoyed spending time with on and off the track.”
Laut, who grew up in Oxnard and graduated from UCLA, started training under Adams in 1981. He lived with his wife Jane and dog Kelsey, a German shepherd, in a rented Goleta tract house. Appleyard described him as “passionate about his discipline, always encouraging, mostly light hearted and fun, but predictably serious when it mattered.”
It mattered at the 1984 Olympics, where Laut was in fourth place entering the final two rounds of the shot put competition. He unleashed his best throw on his last attempt to reach the medal podium with Alessandro Andrei (gold) of Italy and Michael Carter (silver), a fellow American.
Other highlights of Laut’s athletic career included two NCAA championships and a world record-tying throw of 72’3″ in 1982. He was one of the smaller shot putters on the international scene (though still a hefty 6’4″ and 245 pounds), but he was a master of the spin technique. Laut tore tendons in both knees doing a firemen’s sprint relay in 1986, but two years later he came back to finish fifth in the 1988 Olympic Trials.
Laut’s death brought back echoes of another tragedy that befell the athletes training at UCSB. Bob Roggy lived with the Lauts when he broke the American record in the javelin throw. At the 1986 Olympic Sports Festival in Houston, Roggy was thrown from the back of a moving pickup truck and died after hitting the pavement. He was 30.
Laut, an inductee into the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame, is survived by his wife and their 10-year-old adopted son Michael.