Athletics

A record-setting machine

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He went on to pocket unprecedented four back-to-back gold medals with world records

Al Oerter, a giant on the Olympic stage in discus throw, discovered his pet event by accident and with no formal coaching went on to pocket unprecedented four back-to-back golds (1956 to 1968).

In contrast to this age of personal coaches and specialised support staff to deal with everything from physiology to psychology, the American willed his body to do what his mind dared. He considered a towel to be his coach and motivator, placing the cloth piece at a distance and trying to hurl the discus beyond.

Oerter’s haul of four medals (Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Mexico City 1968) is an awe-inspiring feat for Olympians of any generation. He won the golds with world records (56.36m, 59.18m, 61.00m, 64.78m).

As an aspiring track athlete training for the mile, he returned a discus which had landed nearby with a casual throw and was amazed at the distance covered.

Goal-setting came to him instinctively from the time he picked up the first Olympic gold at the age of 20 till his fourth title at 32. Over the next three Games he enjoyed the high of improving upon the distance in high-profile competitions.

Dramatic happening

Rome 1960 marked a dramatic happening in the discus throw arena, a slight technical correction pointed out by fellow American Rink Babka, leading the event after five rounds (58.02).

Oerter stepped up to unleash a 59.18m in the sixth for gold, silver medallist beside him on the podium was teammate Babka.

A bandaged rib cage did not deter the Olympic champion from challenging himself in Tokyo ’64. Doctors advised him six weeks recovery, but Oerter responded by battling pain and stiff joints over four throws, then hurling a record-breaking fifth (61m). He won the fourth gold at Mexico City, rainstorm and chilly conditions not enough to discourage the great athlete. A fourth place in the U.S. trials for 1980 Olympics probables meant younger throwers had taken over from the 43-year-old veteran. America boycotted the Moscow Games, Oerter moved on to pursue his other passion, abstract art.

The International Olympic Committee chose him as the first athlete named for the ‘Olympic Order’, the American track & field icon went on to become a motivational speaker, banking on sporting experiences and Olympic insights to fire up young minds.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 4:06:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/athletics/a-recordsetting-machine/article3658371.ece

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