Steve Smythe takes a look back at women’s discus events at the Olympic Games
The discus was the first women’s event to be completed at the first Olympics catering for both sexes in 1928. Despite this history, the event has seen very few famous athletes that have stood the test of time and many of the medallists have been discredited with drug-taking. The 2012 result, for example, was amended after the event.
The 2016 event could see a contest, though, between world champion Denia Caballero and defending champion Sandra Perkovic, who between them had the top 14 throws of 2015.
1928 to 2012
Halina Konopacka of Poland broke her own world record in 1928 in Amsterdam to become the first women’s Olympic track and field champion, comfortably with 39.62m. Poland were also favourites for gold in Los Angeles in 1932 but the then world record-holder, Jadwiga Wajs, was beaten by two Americans, headed by local law student Lillian Copeland, who improved the Olympic record by a metre.
Copeland, who was Jewish, boycotted the 1936 ‘Hitler Olympics’ in Berlin. She surely wouldn’t have won, though, as home athlete Gisela Mauermayer added seven metres to her Olympic record with a 47.63m throw to just miss her world record. Wajs improved to second.
Mauermayer still held the world record of 48.31m when the Olympics returned in 1948, but she had lost both her world and Olympic records by the end of the 1952 Games in Helsinki. In Finland, Nina Romaschkova threw a big 51.42m to win by more than four metres as her Soviet team-mate and world record-holder Nina Dumbadze was an off-form third.
Romaschkova broke her compatriot’s record shortly after that, but Dumbadze responded with a 57.04m world record that lasted through the 1956 and 1960 Olympics. However, Romaschkova proved the better, more enduring competitor and under her married name of Ponomaryova she finished third in Melbourne and then won in an Olympic record 55.10m in Rome in 1960. Despite her two gold medals, she had gained more notoriety earlier for being arrested for stealing five hats in Oxford Street in 1956!
The 1956 champion, Olga Fikotova, competed for the Czech Republic that year but after marrying Olympic hammer champion Harold Connolly, she finished seventh for the USA in 1960.
Germany’s Liesel Westermann broke the 60-metre and 200-foot barrier in 1967 but could only finish second in 1968 in Mexico to Lia Manoliu’s 58.28m Olympic record. It was the Romanian’s fifth attempt, having been sixth, ninth, third and third on her previous attempts. At 36 she became the oldest women’s Olympic champion.
Standards shot up from 1971 and the Soviet’s Faina Melnik became the first to break 64, 65 and 66 metres and she won in Munich in an Olympic record 66.62m as all the top eight broke the previous Olympic best. Melnik also bettered the 68, 69 and 70-metre barriers too, but in Montreal in 1976 she was only fourth as 20-year-old Evelin Schlaak caused a surprise with a 69.00m win.
Married under the name Jahl, the East German successfully defended her title in Moscow in 1980, upping her Olympic record to 69.96m as she had the four longest throws.
World champion Marina Hellmann improved the record to a still-standing 72.30m in Seoul in 1988. World record-holder Gabriele Reinsch was almost 10 metres down on her recent 76.88m throw and finished seventh. Her record has yet to be beaten but the world’s No.1 through the 90s, Ilke Wyludda, struggled competitively and had missed even qualifying for the final in 1992 and had failed to win in four World Championships. She won her first global gold, though, in Atlanta in 1996 and her 69.66m gave her a three-metre win.
Russian Natalya Sadova won narrowly in Athens in 2004 to beat home favourite Anastasia Kelesidou with a fifth-round throw, but the Russian failed a drugs test a few years later.
American Stephanie Brown Trafton pulled off a shock win in Beijing in 2008 with the shortest winning distance for 40 years, while Perkovic won in 2012 after the original silver medallist Darya Pishchalnikova lost second place for failing an earlier drugs test.
Most memorable Olympic discus: Tokyo 1964
The silver medallist in Rome in 1960, Tamara Press, improved the world record shortly afterwards and the Soviet was favourite for Tokyo in 1964. She was lucky to win in Japan though. She was only 13th best in qualifying, though her 50.28m edged past the 50 metre automatic qualifying mark.
In the final she started with a no-throw and was only fourth after four rounds. A 57.27m fifth round put her ahead but only by six centimetres and she held on to win gold as the first four were separated by less than two feet (57cm) and Ingrid Lotz of East Germany and Lia Manoliu of Romania gained the other medals.
Press also won the shot in 1960 and 1964. The first four were separated by less than two feet (57cm) and Ingrid Lotz of East Germany and Lia Manoliu of Romania gained the other medals.
The Romanian would go on to win in Mexico in 1968 and in 1972 became the first athlete to compete in six Olympics. Tessa Sanderson equalled that feat in the javelin in 1996.
British successes in the discus have been rather low-key. The only time Britons have made the top eight was in Los Angeles in 1984 where the field was affected by the Eastern-bloc boycott. Meg Ritchie finished fifth and Venissa Head, seventh. Ritchie was eighth in a top-quality World Champs the year before.
The winner in Los Angeles was Netherlands’ Ria Stalman, who won with her final throw of 65.36m. The Dutch athlete was later caught smuggling steroids into the USA from Mexico.
» Check out editions of Athletics Weekly magazine from September 24, 2015, for more from our ‘Countdown to Rio’ series
» For the full Olympic history: Women’s discus feature, including a complete list of medallists and further facts and stats, see the October 29, 2015, edition of AW magazine