Road To The Olympic Games

Centrepiece of the ancient Olympics

The discus has managed to hold its place in athletics and was contested in the 1896 Olympics.

The discus has an immediate connection to the ancient Games

Al Oerter of the USA throws the discus at the Mexico Olympic Games. ((AFP/Getty Images))

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The discus has perhaps the most immediate connection of any modern Olympic event to the Greek Games of antiquity. Even Homer rapturously described Ulysses throwing the discus. The Greeks used bronze disks anywhere from two to six kilograms in weight and 21 to 34 centimetres in diameter for the event, one fifth of the ancient pentathlon, the centrepiece of the ancient Olympics.

Even though it has no function other than as an implement to be thrown for distance in track and field competitions, the discus has managed to hold its place in athletics and was contested in the 1896 Olympics, with the first women's competition coming in 1928. It holds the distinction of being the only track and field event in which a world record has not been set at the Olympics.
Robert Garrett of the USA wins the gold in the discus event during the Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens, Greece. ((Photo by Getty Images))

Al Oerter of the U.S. was the first ever four-time gold-medal winner in athletics, a feat equalled only once by American Carl Lewis in the long jump. Oerter won gold in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 and lost a chance to capture a fifth gold when a comeback attempt in 1980 was derailed by the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics. His four gold are even more remarkable when you consider that he wasn't the favourite in any of them.

In Melbourne in 1956 he was a 20-year-old unknown. He had to recover from a near-fatal car crash in 1957 and his first-ever defeat at the Olympic trials before defeating countryman Richard Babka in Rome in 1960.

A disc injury (cervical disc, that is) forced him to wear a brace in 1964, and by 1968 younger athletes were more prominent. Yet amazingly, Oerter not only won all four times, he also broke an Olympic record each time.

Lia Manoliu

While Lia Manoliu of Romania wasn't as successful as Oerter, she deserves a special mention for perseverance. Manoliu took part in six Olympics from 1952 to 1972. She placed sixth in 1952 and ninth in 1956 before winning her first medal in 1960, a bronze. She settled for bronze again in 1964 before finally winning her only gold in 1968 at age 36, making her the oldest women to win gold in athletics. Manoliu was also the first track and field athlete to participate in six Olympics.

Canada has never won a medal in the discus, though Jason Tunks, of London, Ont., finished sixth in Sydney. That competition was won by Virgilojus Alekna of Lithuiania, who defended his Olympic title four years later in Athens.

Notable Medallists

Al Oerter, U.S. - 4 gold (1956-1968)

Tamara Press, Soviet Union - 1 gold (1964), 1 silver (1960)

Lars Reidel, Germany - 1 gold (1996), 1 silver (2000)

Lia Manoliu, Romania - 1 gold (1968), 1 bronze (1960, 1964)

Ellina Zvereva, Belarus - 1 gold (2000), bronze (1996)

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