As part of our event-by-event look back at the Olympics, this time it’s the turn of the men’s shot put

1896-2012

The inaugural contest in Athens in 1896 was another modest competition with Robert Garrett following up his discus win with an 11.22m throw confining two Greeks to the minor medals.

Garrett was back in Paris in 1900 and took the bronze though he and silver medallist Josiah McCracken refused to compete in the final because it was a Sunday and their qualifying marks counted.

The clear winner was another American Richard Sheldon who took the title with a 14.10m throw. They clean-sweeped in France but were even more dominant in St Louis as they took the first seven places. Ralph Rose won with a world record 14.81m.

Fourth-placer Martin Sheridan won in Athens in 1906, even though he threw a shorter distance than two years earlier. Rose had missed Athens but was back for London in 1908 and won clearly with a 14.21m throw.

In Stockholm in 1912, a New York policeman Patrick McDonald – he eventually served for 41 years – won gold in Sweden with an Olympic record 15.34m edging Rose, who thus won his third medal.

USA’s dominance temporarily faded after the War as Finland gained a one-two in Antwerp in 1920 with Ville Porhola taking gold easily with a 14.81m throw.

The Americans were back on top and clean-swept in Paris in 1924 and then went one-two in Amsterdam in 1928.

Emil Hirschfield was the favourite after erasing Rose’s 19-year-old world record and in the final he threw a near record 15.72m but lost out to John Kuck, who broke the German’s world record with a 15.87m throw. Herman Brix took silver with a 15.75m and he went on to appear in more than 100 films including playing Tarzan.

There was another US one-two in Los Angeles in 1932 with Leo Sexton upping the Olympic record to 16.00m.

In Berlin in 1936, there were no US medallists with world record-holder Jack Torrence only fifth. Surprisingly Hans Woelke became the first ever German track and field champion with an Olympic best 16.20m.

Even though world record-holder Charles Fonville couldn’t even make the US team in London 1948, they clean swept again. Wilbur Thompson won with an Olympic record 17.12m as no other nation bettered 15.50m.

There was another US top-three in Helsinki 1952. Parry O’Brien, who introduced a new technique which began with his back to the circle, improved the Olympic record to 17.41m as America again dominated.

In 1954 he became the first athlete to break 60 feet and he upped the Olympic record past that mark in Melbourne in 1956 with an 18.57m throw. He became the first reigning world record-holder to win gold since 1908.

In 1960, William Niedler could only come fourth in the US trials but injury gave him a late chance to compete and the world record-holder finally proved his competitive mettle with a huge 19.68m to add over a metre to the previous Olympic record. O’Brien finished second and Dallas Long third.

By the time of Tokyo in 1964, Long was world record-holder but after four rounds he was trailing teenager Randy Matson’s fourth round Olympic record mark of 20.20m but Long responded with a 20.33m.

Matson then dominated the sport over the next four years, becoming the first 70-foot thrower and in Mexico, he won with 20.54m, though threw further in qualifying. It was the fifth successive Olympics that the US had gained at least a one-two.

Wladyslaw Komar had been ninth in 1964 and sixth in 1968 but was a different athlete in Munich in 1972. In the closest ever contest just four centimetres covered the leading four. The Pole opened with a big PB of 21.18m and that Olympic record held on for victory but it was close as George Woods (21.17m) and Hartmut Briesenick and Hans-Peter Gies both threw 21.14m. Komar’s last throw hit Komar’s lead marker but was measured as significantly less.

In Montreal in 1976, it was another superbly close competition with 10 centimetres covering the top four. Udo Beyer, 20, who was added to the East German team a week before the event, won thanks to a fifth round 21.05m.

Beyer was world record-holder by the time of Moscow in 1980 and a huge favourite after 34 successive victories. However, he lost to the Soviet Vladimir Kiselyov, who won with an Olympic record 21.35m as the Americans boycotted.

The Soviets returned the favour and were absent in Los Angeles but it was still a reasonable standard. Italian policeman Alessandro Andrei won with a 21.26m throw. Michael Carter finished second but regained more fame in America by appearing in San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl victory six months later.

East Germany won in Seoul (see most memorable Olympics) and at the height of drug taking, the 1992 Olympics event was the first in which all three medallists had served drugs suspensions.

Michael Stulce was banned for two years in 1990 but returned in time for Barcelona and he improved his PB to 21.70m for the biggest winning margin for 92 years. He was lucky though as double world champion Werner Gunthor threw further with his final throw but his fingers touched the ring and it was adjudged a no-throw.

Stulce failed another drugs test at the 1993 World Championships. Another American drug-taker Randy Barnes took gold in Atlanta in 1996.

The 1988 silver medallist broke the world record in 1990 with a 23.12m throw but a few months later failed a drugs test and served a two-year suspension.

Barnes was only sixth going into the final round but came through with a 21.62m throw to win easily. He failed another test in 1998 and was banned for life.

It was closer in Sydney in 2000 with nine centimetres covering the top three and a shock winner as eighth-ranked Arsi Harju gained a surprise gold for Finland.

It was even closer in Athens in 2004 as the event was held in Olympia with Yuriy Belonog seemingly winning with his second best throw as both he and Adam Nelson threw 21.16m. However, the Ukrainian later lost his gold medal to a retrospective drugs test.

Tomasz Majewski won easily in Beijing in 2008 but in London in 2012, trailed after two rounds to world champion David Storl’s huge opening throws of 21.84m and 21.86m. The Pole though edged ahead with a 21.87m third throw and confirmed his very small superiority with a 21.89m final throw. Storl’s throw would have won gold in every Olympics bar 1988.

Most memorable Olympic shot put: Seoul 1988

With drug taking at its peak and the drug testers struggling to keep up, 1988 saw the longest throws in Olympic history – even 28 years later no thrower has thrown further in the Olympics than the three medallists.

World champion Werner Gunthor opened with an Olympic record 21.45m. It didn’t last the round though as world-record holder Ulf Timmermann threw 22.02m.

The East German improved to 22.16m in the third round and then 22.29m in the fifth. He seemed to have the gold sewn up but then in the final round he lost his lead and Olympic record as Randy Barnes shot from fourth to first with a stunning 22m. Timmermann had the final throw of the competition to respond and he did so with a superb 22.47m.

Gunthor improved to 21.99m to ensure bronze.

The 1976 champion Udo Beyer threw 21.40m to better the previous Olympic mark but finished a distant fourth.

British successes

Britain has struggled at this event since Ireland’s Denis Horgan won silver for Britain in 1908.

Horgan was 37-years-old and a former world record-holder, but judged to be well past his best. He was originally a New York policeman but after being severely beaten in a brawl with sticks and shovels he was pensioned off and allowed to return to Ireland.

John Savidge finished sixth in 1952 and then Michael Lindsay was fifth in Rome in 1960 with a 17.80m throw.

Commonwealth champion Geoff Capes finished sixth in Montreal in 1976 with 20.36m and improved to 20.50m for fifth in Moscow four years later in 1980 – just over half a metre down on a medal.

» 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 shot put feature, including a complete list of medallists and further facts and stats, see the April 7, 2016, edition of AW magazine