In a special series in the run-up to Rio 2016, Steve Smythe looks at the history of events at the Olympics, this time the men’s discus


The first Olympic champion in Athens in 1896 was American Robert Garrett in his first ever discus competition – where he won with a modest 29.15m throw.

The competition in Paris in 1900 was more notable with the top eight over 32 metres even though it took place in a narrow line between trees and there were many no throws hitting the trees! The winner was Hungarian Rudolf Bauer.

America were back in command in St Louis in 1904 with world-record holder Martin Sheridan and Ralph Rose sharing the winning distance with 39.28m. The gold was actually decided by a throw-off won by Sheridan’s 38.97m.

Sheridan defended his title in 1906 far easier in Athens in 1906 with a 41.46m throw. He also won the shot and came second in the stone throw, standing high and long jump.

He made it three in a row in London in 1908 with a 40.89m as the US clean- sweeped and had five of the top six.

By the time of Stockholm in 1912, another American James Duncan was world record-holder but could only finish third as Finn Armas Taipale won easily and improved the Olympic record to 45.21m.

Another Finn Elmer Niklander finished fourth and eight years later, following the First World War he won gold in 44.68m not far ahead of Taipale.

In Paris in 1924, USA were back on top again as shot champion Bud Houser completed a double that no male thrower has repeated since. He won with an Olympic record 46.15m, which he improved to 47.32m in Amsterdam in 1928 though he only narrowly defeated Finn Antero Kivi.

John Anderson was fifth but he improved dramatically to win gold in Los Angeles in 1932 bettering the previous Olympic record with four of his six throws.

It was thought that Frenchman Jules Noel, who between the rounds swigged champagne, may have thrown further with his fourth attempt. Unfortunately his throw was at a crucial moment of the pole vault and all the officials watched that rather than where his effort landed! He was given an extra one but still could do no better than fourth with all his throws.

USA repeated a one-two in Berlin in 1936 with Kenneth Carpenter achieving the first Olympic throw over 50 metres with 50.48m.

Italy came out on top for the only time in 1948 in London with Adolfo Consolini winning with a 52.78m from team-mate Giuseppe Tosi as the first three bettered the previous Olympic mark.

Consolini improved to 53.78m in Helsinki in 1952 but was decisively beaten by the 55.03m from Simeon Iness. USA had three in four in Finland but improved to a clean sweep in Melbourne in 1956.

The surprise winner was 20-year-old Al Oerter who improved his PB to 56.36m as world record-holder Fortune Gordien was second.

By the time of Rome in 1960, the new record-holder was giant Rink Babka, who had beaten Oerter in the US trials.

Oerter proved his competitive mettle though in Italy after initially struggling to hit his best form. In the fifth round he came from behind to pass Babka with a PB 59.18m to up his Olympic record and beat his opponent by a metre.

In 1962, Oerter became the first athlete to break the 200ft barrier (61 metres) with his first world record lasting only 17 days although he got it back a month later.

By the time of 1964, Ludvik Danek had advanced the world record to 64.54 and he went in to Tokyo, unbeaten in 45 competitions.

Oerter seemingly wasn’t at his best as he had a long term back disc injury and then a week before the Olympics, tore cartilage in his lower back and doctors advised six weeks rest. However, in qualifying, wrapped with ice packs and tape and full of Novocain, he broke his Olympic record. In the final, in pain, he thought he needed to get the throw in his first round but he trailed Danek until the fifth round and was only lying third when he upped his Olympic record to 61.00m to just pip Danek.

After winning in 1968 (see most memorable Olympics) Oerter didn’t make Munich in 1972 which left the way open for Danek and Jay Silvester, who were both 35 years of old and had a 12-12 record in competition against each other.

The Czech had gone close to Oerter’s record in qualifying but in a quality final, he was only lying fifth at the start of the final round but a last attempt 64.40 took the title ahead of Silvester and world record-holder Ricky Bruch.

By the time of Montreal in 1976, Mac Wilkins had upped the world mark to 70.86m and in qualifying, the American set an Olympic mark of 68.28m. In the final, a 67.50 sufficed and gave the title over East Germany’s Wolfgang Schmidt’s 66.22m.

The German later broke the world record with a 71.16m throw and was favourite in Moscow in 1980 with the Western boycott taking out three Americans including Wilkins who had all thrown over 67 metres in their country’s trials.

A foot injury affected Schmidt and he could only finish fourth as Viktor Rashchupkin went from fourth to first in the fourth round to pull off a narrow win with a 66.64m throw.

Many observers felt though that Cuban Luis Delis threw further in the final round but was wrongly measured by the local officials keen for a Soviet victory.

In Los Angeles, none of the leading throwers from Moscow returned but USA were back from 1976 and expected to clean sweep.

Wilkins led early on but was passed by German Rolf Dannenberg in the fourth round who pulled off the biggest surprise of the Games with a 66.60m victory. John Powell won his second bronze.

In 1988 in Seoul, world champion and world record-holder Jurgen Schult added the Olympic title and Olympic record with a 68.82m win with defending champion Dannenberg third.

Second had been Lithuanian Romas Ubartas and though he threw two metres less in Barcelona, it was enough for gold ahead of Schult in a see-saw contest.

It was Lithuania’s first ever gold but his hero status in his country was short-lived as he was busted for anabolic steroids in the 1993 World Championships and served a four-year ban.

Lars Riedel had been favourite in 1992 but had failed to make the final and the three-time world champion was struggling in the 1996 final in Atlanta after two no throws. But he got a third round throw in to move into fourth and then sealed gold with a 69.40m Olympic record in the fifth.

Reidel won the 1997 world title but was only third in the 1999 Championships but showed he was still dangerous when he beat favourite Virgilijus Alekna just prior to the 2000 Sydney Games. Alekna had thrown 73.88m in the Lithuanian Championships, the best throw in the world since Schult’s record in 1986.

In the final Riedel took the lead with a 68.50m third round throw. Alekna had never beaten Riedel in a major event but responded with first a 68.73m and then 69.30m to give Lithuania a second title.

In Athens in 2004 Hungarian Robert Fazekas originally won with 70.93m but was then disqualified post event for not producing a big enough sample and it was then found he was carrying a bag with stored urine. The title thus went to Alekna and his 69.89m gave him an Olympic record.

In 2008 in Athens there was a superb competition. World champion Gerd Kanter was only fourth at halfway but a 68.38m fourth round gave him the title from Piotr Malachowski and Alekna.

Robert Harting threw 67.09m and came fourth and then won the world title in 2009 and 2011 and then won the 2012 Olympic title in London.

It was another excellent competition with just over a metre covering the top five with Harting only going ahead in the fifth round with a 68.27m throw,

Iran’s Ehsan Hadadi was a close second just eight centimetres back with Kanter, Alekna and Malachowski all over 67.19m.

Most memorable Olympic discus: Mexico 1968

In 1968, the new world record-holder Jay Silvester (68.40m) was a clear favourite but three-time winner Al Oerter was out to make Olympic history.

His American team-mate Silvester broke the Olympic record with a 63.34m throw in qualifying but wasn’t a factor in the final. Oerter was only fourth after two rounds but his third throw was a near two metre PB of 64.78m and he had an unprecedented fourth successive gold medal.

He confirmed his dominance with two more big throws (64.74m and 64.04m) close to his PB to confirm his dominance over the other medallists, Lothar Milde of East Germany and Ludvik Danek of Czecholslovakia.

Oerter didn’t compete in 1972 or 1976 but made a comeback in 1980. At the age of 43, he set a PB of 69.46m but in the US trials could only finished fourth though it was already obvious that the USA were going to boycott the Games.

British successes

The discus has been one of Britain’s least successful events in the Olympics.

George Robertson was fourth in the inaugural games in 1896 but was last with a 25.20m throw.

Mark Pharaoh was a more meaningful fourth in 1956, just 13 centimetres off the medal places with a 54.27m attempt.

No one has ever made the top eight since Rob Hollingsworth’s 10th in 1964, a position matched by Bob Weir in a weak 1984 final in Los Angeles.

Lawrence Okoye was the fourth best qualifier in 2012 with a British Olympic best of 65.28m and, aged 21, he was 12th with 61.03m in the final.

» Check out editions of Athletics Weekly magazine from September 24, 2015, for more from our ‘Countdown to Rio’ series

» For the full Olympic history: Men’s discus feature, including a complete list of medallists and further facts and stats, see the April 28, 2016, edition of AW magazine