Miracle man Oerter bounces back in the discus

The world had become accustomed to remarkable feats of success from the discus thrower Al Oerter, but his performance in Tokyo was one of his greatest. He won the competition for the third time, but did so in the toughest of circumstances, as if fate wanted to test both his sporting brilliance and his resolve.

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Miracle man Oerter bounces back in the discus
(Picture by Gettyimages)

He had won gold medals in both 1956 and 1960, but repeat success had not damaged his competitiveness. Oerter set a new world record in 1962, becoming the first athlete to throw more than 200 feet (approx 61 metres). His biggest challenge, as it turned out, was to come from two places – the challenge of the world champion, Ludvik Daněk, who had won 45 competitions in a row, and also the frailties of Oerter’s own body.

For a while before the Games began, Oerter had been hampered by a cervical disc injury that forced him to wear a neck brace when throwing the discus. He had to wear the brace throughout the event but, as if that wasn’t enough, he also suffered a torn rib muscle just the week before the Games, while practising in Tokyo.

IOC 1964
IOC 1964

Doctors said he should rest instead of competing but, determined to defend his title, Oerter ignored the advice. He turned up on time, with a neck brace and ice packs, and promptly broke the Olympic record with his first qualifying throw.

But the final was even more arduous. Daněk took the early lead and Oerter was third after four rounds and clearly in pain. He barely saw the flight of his fifth throw, as he winced in agony, but it landed exactly 61m away – the only throw to clear 200ft – and took him into a lead he was not to relinquish. Indeed, Oerter was in so much pain now that he had to be helped off the field and was not able to take his sixth and final throw, but it didn’t make any difference to the result. He had set another Olympic record and taken another gold medal – three victories in three attempts.

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