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L E’s Stories – “These Are The Olympics. You Die For Them” – Tribute To Discus Thrower Extraordinaire Al Oerter

Today’s story is about one of the greatest track and field athletes to ever grace a track meet….who was always at his best on the biggest stage of them all for track and field, the Olympic Games….as he was the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the discus throw from 1956 to 1968…while winning the event in Melbourne (1956)….Rome (1960)….  Tokyo (1964)….and Mexico City (1968).  Although the discus throw is not a “top shelf spectator sport”…..his accomplishments made him a legend in the world of sports…..especially in the Olympics universe….where he stands on hallowed ground with our Top 10 all time USA Gold Medal Olympians like Carl Lewis (9), Eric Heiden (5), Michael Phelps (23), Pat McCormick (4), Ray Eway (8), Mark Spitz (9), Marcus Hunley (4), Greg Louganis (4) and Bonnie Blair (4)….as only Al Oerter, Michael Phelps, Greg Louganis and Carl Lewis captured gold in four different Olympic games…. which puts these athletes on a level of their own…..especially in the history of the Olympics….cuz it means that not only were they the best in the world…..but they were also the best in the world for a span of 17 years…..so, we figure Al Oerter more than deserves this story dedicated to his life and his career.               

Track & Field – 1956 To 1980 – Bud Greenspan Olympiad Special – Al Oerter

Al Oerter Jr. (September 19, 1936 – October 1, 2007) was an American athlete and a four-time Olympic Champion in the discus throw….who  was the first athlete to win a gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympic Games.                                                                                                                   

 

Olympics – 1956 To 1968 – Special – Al Oerter’s Quadruple Discus Gold

Oerter was born in 1936 in Astoria, Queens, New York City….while growing up in New Hyde Park….where he attended Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park. He began his track and field career at the age of 15 when a discus landed at his feet and he threw it back past the crowd of throwers….so, Oerter continued throwing his way to eventually earning a scholarship to the University of Kansas in 1954….where he became a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity…..which means that Al Oerter and Bone Daddy are fraternity brothers….plus, they were similar in size….as Oerter was large man at 6′ 4″ (193 cm) and 280 lbs. (127 kg),….and BD was 6’3″ and 270 lbs.                                                                                                         

Track & Field – 1956 To 1968 – Special Documentary – The Discus Throw: Al Oerter Technical Analysis

Oerter was a natural thrower….who learned better technique while competing for Kansas….which allowed him to become the NCAA discus champion in 1957 and 1958.                                                                                      

Track & Field – 1956 To 1982 – Special Interview with Discus Thrower Al Oerter On How He Won His 4 Olympic Gold Medals While Not Being Favored

Oerter began his Olympic career at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne…..when he was not considered the favorite…. albeit, he felt a rush during the competition and unleashed a throw of 184 feet 22 inches (56.64 m)…..which, at the time, was a career best…. and good enough to win the competition by more than 5 inches (130 mm). The following year it seemed that Oerter’s career would be over at the age of 20…..when he was nearly killed in an automobile accident…..however, he recovered in time to compete at the 1960 Summer Olympics at Rome….where he was the slight favorite over teammate Rink Babka…..who was the world record holder.  Babka was in the lead for the first four of the six rounds….when he gave Oerter advice before his fifth throw….to which Oerter threw his discus 194 feet 2 inches (59.18 m)…..while setting an Olympic record…..and Babka had to settle for the silver medal when he was not able to beat Oerter’s throw.                                                                                                                         

Olympics – 1956 To 1968 – Special Men’s Discus Finals Highlights – Al Oerter: “Too Young, Too Weak, Too Hurt And Too Old”                                                                                                                                                                   

During the early 1960’s, Oerter continued to have success and set his first world record in 1962…..when in the process, he was the first to break 200 feet in the discus…..and was considered a heavy favorite to win a third gold medal at Tokyo in 1964….but Oerter was hampered by injuries before the Games began…..as he was bothered by a neck injury that required him to wear a neck brace….when a week before the start of the competition he tore cartilage in his ribs…..which meant that Oerter was competing in great pain….and that is when he set a new Olympic standard…..and won his third Olympic gold medal despite not being able to take his last throw due to the pain from his ribs. He’d told the doctors, “These are the Olympics. You die for them”.                                                                                                                                                              

Olympics – 1964 – Tokyo Games – Men’s Discus Throw Highlights – Featuring Al Oerter

Oerter returned to the Olympics in 1968 at Mexico City….however teammate Jay Silvester was cast as the favorite…..as many felt Oerter, who was then 32, could not win the event because he had never thrown as far as Silvester did on his average throws.  At the Olympics, however, Oerter hurled another Olympic record throw of 64.78 metres (212.5 ft) on his 3rd throw. His record held and he became the first track and field athlete to win gold medals in four consecutive Olympic Games. This accomplishment would be equaled many years later by fellow Americans Carl Lewis and swimmer Michael Phelps.                                         

Olympics – 1968 – Mexico City Games – Men’s Discus Finals – Featuring Al Oerter

Oerter retired from athletics after the 1968 Olympics. He later eyed a comeback and took anabolic steroids in 1976 under medical supervision in order to put on muscle mass…..however, he stopped the course as this affected his blood pressure….while also failing to show  much improvement on the field.  After this he advised athletes to avoid such drugs and focus on training and technique instead. He was critical of the increase of drug use and the subsequent testing in track and field, stating that it had destroyed the culture of athlete camaraderie and that the banning of athletes such as Ben Plucknett was merely scapegoating by international officials.                                                                                                                  

Track & Field – 1982 – London International Track Meet – Men’s Discus Finals – With USA John Powell + USA Al Oerter + USA Art Burns

Oerter did make an attempt to qualify for the American team in 1980 but finished fourth. He nonetheless set his overall personal record of 69.46 metres (227.9 ft) that year at the age of 43. Dr. Gideon Ariel, a former Olympic shot putter himself for Israel, had developed a business of biomechanical services, and Oerter after working with Ariel—at age 43—threw a discus 27 feet farther than his best gold medal performance.                                                                                                                                                                       

Track & Field – 1982 – Special Al Oerter Interview With Dr. Gideon Ariel – On The Discus Throw Of Al Oeter Of 245 Feet (74.68m)

When filming for a TV segment, he unofficially threw about 245 feet (75 m), which would have set a still-standing world record. In later years, Oerter carried the Olympic flag for the 1984 Summer Olympics, then carried Olympic flame into the stadium for the 1996 Olympic Games.                                                                               

Olympics – 1956 To 1968 – Special Highlights – 4 x Olympic Men’s Discus Throw Gold Medalist USA Al Oerter

As a child, Oerter had frequently traveled to his grandparents’ home in Manhattan and admired their art collection. As a retired athlete, Oerter became an abstract painter. Oerter enjoyed the freedom of abstract art, and thus decided against formal schooling for his art, as he thought it might stifle his creativity. Part of Oerter’s work was his “Impact” series of paintings. For these works, Oerter would lay a puddle of a paint on a tarp, and fling a discus into it to create splashing lines on a canvas positioned in front of the tarp. If the discus landed painted-face up, Oerter would sign it and give it to whoever purchased the painting.                                                                                                                                                                          

Track & Field – 2001 – World Outdoor Championships Special Interview With Discus Throwing Legend Al Oerter

In 2006 he founded the Art of the Olympians organization and held an Olympian Art exhibition in his home town of Fort Myers.  This first show included artworks and sculptures from 14 Olympians, including Florence Griffith Joyner, Roald Bradstock, Shane Gould, Cameron Myler, Rink Babka and Larry Young. Later that year the exhibit traveled to New York City for shows at the United Nations, the New York Athletic Club and then at the National Arts Club. Art of the Olympians also had their work on display on the giant Panasonic Astro-Vision screen in Times Square for the entire month November 2006. Oerter and other Olympian artists were also featured on the CBS Morning Show to discuss their New York Tour.                  

Olympics – 1987 – Special Documentary On “Art Of The Olympians” Founder Al Oerter – With Host Peggy Fleming

In mid-2007, Art of the Olympians was given the rights to use the word Olympian by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC)—an act protected by Congress. On August 1, 2007 Art of the Olympians was awarded a 501 (c) (3) status.  Art of the Olympians continued to grow 10 years after their first exhibition. The organization now has 50 Olympian and Paralympian artists on its roster including two posthumous members: Al Oerter and Florence Griffith-Joyner. Over the past decade Art of the Olympians artists and their artwork have been seen on numerous TV networks including CBS, NBC, BBC, CNN, PBS, the USA Network and UK’s Channel Four and had Exhibitions at three Olympic and Paralympic Games: Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 and London 2012. And for three and half years, between 2010 and 2013, Art of the Olympians had dozens of group and solo exhibitions at their museum and gallery in Fort Myers, Florida.               

Olympics – 2006 – Special – “Art Of The Olympians” And Al Oerter – New Your City Tour

Oerter had struggled with high blood pressure his entire life, and in the 2000s, he became terminally ill with cardiovascular disease. On March 13, 2003, Oerter was briefly clinically dead; a change of blood pressure medications caused a fluid build-up (Pericardial effusion) around his heart. As Oerter’s heart condition progressed, he was advised by cardiologists he would require a heart transplant. Oerter dismissed the suggestion. “I’ve had an interesting life,” he said, “and I’m going out with what I have.”   Oerter died on October 1, 2007, of heart failure in Fort Myers, Florida at the age of 71. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.   Oerter is an inductee of the IAAF Hall of Fame.                                  

Olympics – 1982 – Special – 4 x Olympic Gold Medal Discus Throw Winner Al Oerter Talks About Getting Back To The Olympics

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