Amazing Icon-Al Oerter
Alfred Oerter, Jr. (September 19, 1936 – October 1, 2007) was a four-time Olympic champion in the discus throw.
Oerter was the first athlete to win a gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympics—a feat only matched by Carl Lewis in the long jump.
Born in New York City, Al Oerter began his career at the age of 15 when a discus landed at his feet and he threw it back past the crowd of throwers. Oerter continued throwing and eventually earned a scholarship to the University of Kansas in 1954 where he became a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. A large man at 6’4″ (193 cm) and 280 pounds (127 kg), Oerter was a natural thrower. Competing for Kansas, in 1957 he became the NCAA discus champion; in 1958 he successfully defended his title.
Oerter began his Olympic career at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. He was not considered the favorite but he felt a rush during the competition and he unleashed a throw of 184 feet 22 inches (56.64 m)—which, at the time, was a career best. The throw was good enough to win the competition by more than 5 inches (130 mm).
It seemed Oerter’s career would be over at the age of 20, when in 1957, an automobile accident nearly killed him. He recovered in time to compete at the 1960 Summer Olympics at Rome, where he was the slight favorite over teammate and world record holder Rink Babka.
Babka was in the lead for the first four of the six rounds. He gave Oerter advice before his fifth throw; Oerter threw his discus 194 feet 2 inches (59.18 m), setting an Olympic record. Babka was not able to beat Oerter’s throw and finished with silver.
During the early 1960s, Oerter continued to have success, setting his first world record in 1962. In the process, he was the first to break 200 feet in the discus. He was considered a heavy favorite to win a third gold medal at Tokyo in 1964.
Injuries again seemed to have felled Oerter before the Games. He was bothered by a neck injury, and then he tore a cartilage in his ribs shortly before the competition. Competing in great pain, Oerter set a new Olympic standard and won a third Olympic gold medal despite not being able to take his last throw due to the pain in his ribs. As before, he bettered his own record with a throw of 61 m (200 ft).
Oerter returned to the Olympics in 1968 at Mexico City but he had yielded the position of favorite to teammate Jay Silvester. Many felt that Oerter, at 32, was finished, since he had never thrown as far as Silvester did on his average throws. At the Olympics, however, Oerter released another Olympic record throw of 64.78 m on his third throw. His record held and he became the first track and field athlete to win four consecutive gold medals.
Oerter retired from athletics after the 1968 Olympics.
Sportsman in Life as well as Death!
He was involved in the shooting of a movie, “Chariots of Fire” in late 1970s. He was requested to train for the same. He found that he was still capable of being competitive! He did make an attempt to qualify for the American team in 1980 but he finished fourth. He nonetheless set his overall personal record of 69.46 metres (227.9 ft) that year at the age of 43. When filming for a TV segment, he unofficially threw about 245 feet (75 m), which would have set a still-standing world record!
Oerter had struggled with high blood pressure his entire life, and in the 2000s, he became terminally ill. After a period of serious illness, he was advised by cardiologists that 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 at the age of 71. His memories live with all those who knew, or read about this amazing icon!