Al Oerter won the men's discus for the fourth time in a row, with perhaps his most remarkable performance.
Despite having won the Olympic gold three times in a row, Oerter wasn't even the top American thrower going into this competition. That honour went instead to Jay Silvester, the 31-year-old World Record holder, who had won 20 of his previous 22 competitions. For all Oerter's pedigree, Silvester seemed like he had found form at the perfect time – he'd broken the world record twice in 1968 and was driven on by his memory of finishing fourth in the 1964 Games.
His status as favourite seemed confirmed in the qualifying round, when Silvester threw the discus beyond 207 feet (63.34m) to take the Olympic record. It should have been a huge psychological advantage, for it was a longer throw than any in Oerter's career, but if the champion had proved one thing in his glittering career, it was his resolve. Oerter never gave up.
Conditions helped him. The final was delayed by rain, and that seemed to put Silvester off his stride. Try as he might, he couldn't get anywhere near matching the distance he had produced in the qualifying round, and Silvester best throw was his second – 61.78m – nearly a metre and a half short of his previous performance. Once again, he appeared to have struggled when the pressure was at its greatest. Oerter did the opposite. He was in fourth place going into the third round, but then produced a throw that was five feet beyond anything he had ever done before. It landed at more than 212 feet – 64.78m – and nobody was to come near, with silver medallist Lothar Milde 1.7 metres behind. Silvester finished fifth and, once again, left empty-handed.
Oerter, though, was jubilant, becoming the first track and field athlete to win four golds in the same event. He then retired from the sport, having thrown the discus 33,000 times, before making a brief reappearance at the US Olympic Trials in 1980. At the age of 43, he placed fourth.
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