The discus throw has been a permanent feature for men at the Summer Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896, while the women's event has been present since 1928. The sport dates back as far as the eighth century BCE, and it was re-popularized among students in Magdeburg, Germany in the 1870s; today it remains one of the most iconic Olympic events due to its connection with the Ancient Olympic Games and ancient Greco-Roman artworks. The modern technique sees athletes rotate their bodies (usually one and a half turns) to throw a lenticular (i.e. thicker in the middle than at the edges) disc as far as possible along the field. For men, the disc weighs two kilograms and is 22cm in diameter, while it weighs one kilogram and is 18cm in diameter for women.
As with the other three throwing events at the Olympics (hammer throw, javelin and shot put), the weight differences for men and women has allowed for similar records to be set over time; for example, in the 2020 Games the winning throws for men and women had a difference of just eight centimeters. The Olympic record for women was set by Germany's Martina Hellmann in 1988, with a distance of 72.3 meters, and the men's record was set by Lithuania's double gold-winner Virgilijus Alekna in 2004, with a distance of 69.89 meters. The men's world record of 74.08 meters is the longest-standing men's record in athletics, and was set by Jürgen Schult of East Germany in 1986, while another East German, Gabriele Reinsch, set the women's world record in 1988 with a throw of 76.8 meters. Al Oerter is the most successful discus thrower in Olympic history, with four medals to his name between 1956 and 1968, greatly contributing the the US' tally of 13 golds in the men's event. For the women's event, the Soviet Union and East Germany had collected the most Olympic gold medals between 1952 and 1988, and, in addition to this, female athletes from Eastern European countries dominated the sport in the 1980s, setting 14 of the top 15 throws recorded during this decade.
Discobolus of Myron
The modern technique of rotating the body before releasing the disc was first introduced the Paris Games in 1900, by František Janda-Suk of Bohemia (modern-day Czechia). He based this movement on the famous sculptures the Discobolus of Myron, created by Myron of Eleutherae in Greece in the mid-fifth century BCE. Although the original statue was lost, many Roman reconstructions are still popular and on display today. Janda-Suk studied these statues, and worked on the new technique for just one year before it helped him to win the silver medal in Paris, and established this as the most effective technique for over a century. The image of Discobolus also featured prominently in Leni Riefenstahl's 1938 documentary "Olympia", which is still considered one of the most groundbreaking and important films of all time, despite the films links to the Nazi regime. The first copy of the statue, the Discobolus Palombara, was even sold to Adolf Hitler in 1938, who viewed it as a symbol of Aryan supremacy; but the statue was then returned to Italy in 1948, and is now on display at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome.
Gold medal winning distances in the Men's and Women's discus throw at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020
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olympic.org. (August 4, 2021). Gold medal winning distances in the Men's and Women's discus throw at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in meters) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1099347/olympics-discus-gold-medal-distances-since-1896/
olympic.org. "Gold medal winning distances in the Men's and Women's discus throw at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in meters)." Chart. August 4, 2021. Statista. Accessed August 16, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1099347/olympics-discus-gold-medal-distances-since-1896/
olympic.org. (2021). Gold medal winning distances in the Men's and Women's discus throw at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in meters). Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: August 16, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1099347/olympics-discus-gold-medal-distances-since-1896/
olympic.org. "Gold Medal Winning Distances in The Men's and Women's Discus Throw at The Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in Meters)." Statista, Statista Inc., 4 Aug 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1099347/olympics-discus-gold-medal-distances-since-1896/
olympic.org, Gold medal winning distances in the Men's and Women's discus throw at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in meters) Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1099347/olympics-discus-gold-medal-distances-since-1896/ (last visited August 16, 2022)