Gold medal distances in the javelin throw at the Summer Olympics 1908-2016

The javelin throw was added to the men's Summer Olympic roster in the 1908 Olympic Games in London, while the women's event first appeared in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. As with the discus throw, the javelin appeared in the Ancient Olympic Games, and was contested in two formats; measuring distance and accuracy. The sport was then resurrected in Germany and Scandinavia in the 1870s, and gradually developed into it's current format, with two-handed and freestyle variations of the event passing out of popularity by the 1920s. Today, the restrictions on the javelins are 800 grams in weight and between 2.6 and 2.7 meters in length for men, and 600 grams in weight and between 2.2 and 2.3 meters in length for women. In contrast to other throwing events, there are strict guidelines for the technique used to throw the javelin, as certain experimental and freestyle methods used in the 1950s were seen as a danger to the audience.

Evolution of the javelin

Originally, contestants threw wooden poles (usually made from birch wood) that were fitted with a metal tip. In the 1950s, two brothers from the United States, Bud and Dick Held, developed the Held Javelin, which revolutionized the sport. The Held Javelin had a hollow wooden shaft (later variations were made completely of metal) and flew further than solid wooden javelins. Unfortunately these javelins were less likely to land point first, which created difficulties when measuring distances. Further developments allowed competitors to throw javelins further than ever before, and by 1984 the world record for men had reached 104.8 meters; a distance that created problems for organizers as it was becoming increasingly unsafe to host javelin events in stadiums. In 1986, a number of measures were taken to reposition the javelin's center of gravity, to forbid the use of special paints of holes that would affect aerodynamics, and to increase the likelihood of the javelin landing in the ground.


Due to these restrictions and modifications, all records set before 1986 were nullified. Today, the men's Olympic record is 90.57 meters, and was set by Sweden's Andreas Thorkildsen in 2008, while the women's Olympic record of 71.53 meters was set by Cuba's Osleidys Menéndez in 2004. The world records were both set by Czech athletes; Jan Železný set the men's record with a distance of 98.48 meters in 1996, and Barbora Špotáková threw 72.28 meters in 2008 to set the women's record. Jan Železný is also the only Olympian to win three gold medals in the javelin throw, between 1992 and 2000, while three other men and two women have claimed back-to-back golds in the event. Historically, Scandanavian countries have been the most successful in this event, with Finland taking eight golds in total.

Gold medal winning distances in the Men's and Women's javelin throw at the Summer Olympics from 1908 to 2016

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Release date




Survey time period

1908 to 2016

Supplementary notes

This data was collected using the official site, as well as a spreadsheet from the Guardian that includes data from 1896-2008 (available here), 2012 and 2016 data was compared with that from Encyclopaedia Britannica, and several news outlets were used to update the table when medals were reassigned (i.e. for doping offenses).

The winning athletes (male listed first) and their represented countries are as follows:
1908 - Eric Lemming (Sweden)
1912 - Eric Lemming (Sweden)
1920 - Jonni Myyrä (Finland)
1924 - Jonni Myyrä (Finland)
1928 - Erik Lundqvist (Sweden)
1932 - Matti Järvinen (Finland) & Mildred Didrikson (US)
1936 - Gerhard Stöck (Germany) & Tilly Fleischer (Germany)
1948 - Tapio Rautavaara (Finland) & Herma Bauma (Austria)
1952 - Cy Young (US) & Dana Ingrova-Zatopkova (Czechoslovakia)
1956 - Egil Danielsen (Denmark) & Inese Juanzeme (Soviet Union)
1960 - Viktor Tsybulenko (Soviet Union) & Elvira Ozolina (Soviet Union)
1964 - Pauli Nevala (Finland) & Mihaela Penes (Romania)
1968 - Yanis Lusis (Soviet Union) & Angela Nemeth (Hungary)
1972 - Klaus Wolfermann (West Germany) & Ruth Fuchs (East Germany)
1976 - Miklos Nemeth (Hungary) & Ruth Fuchs (East Germany)
1980 - Dainis Kula (Soviet Union) & Maria Colon (Cuba)
1984 - Arto Härkönen (Finland) & Tessa Sanderson (Great Britain)
1988 - Tapio Korjus (Finland) & Petra Felke (East Germany)
1992 - Jan Zeleny (Czechoslovakia) & Silke Renk (Germany)
1996 - Jan Zeleny (Czechia) & Heli Rantanen (Finland)
2000 - Jan Zeleny (Czechia) & Trine Hattestad (Norway)
2004 - Andreas Thorkildsen (Norway) & Osleidys Menendez (Cuba)
2008 - Andreas Thorkildsen (Norway) & Barbora Spotakova (Czechia)
2012 - Keshorn Walcott (Trinidad and Tobago) & Barbora Spotakova (Czechia)
2016 - Thomas Rohler (Germany) & Sara Kolak (Croatia)

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