The great olympian Al Oerter has died.

I have his autograph misplaced somewhere.

That’s too bad. He seemed like a great guy. There is a recent audio interview with him on Canadian athletics coaching website which can give some insight into his life.

So many great and influential track andfield people have passed in the last year or so.

Oerter (pronounced as in “daughter”) was the first athlete to win the same event at four summer Olympic Games - the discus. He never came in as favourite, but overcame difficulties with courage and boldness.

Cordner Nelson devoted a chapter to him in his entertaining book on the Greats. It’s gathering dust somewhere at home.

From memory, only Carl Lewis has equalled Oerter with 4 long jump titles.

Nearest to them was the USSR’s (Georgia, actually) Victor Saneyev (Saneev, actually) who won gold in the triple jump three times before taking silver at his fourth attempt in Moscow 1980.

Pretty exclusive club they belong to.

Athletics mourns the loss of a legend - Al Oerter dies
Monday 1 October 2007
Monte-Carlo - Al Oerter (USA), who won gold medals in four straight Olympic Games in the Discus Throw, has died today. He was 71-years-old.

Oerter who had high blood pressure since he was young and struggled with heart problems, was brought to a hospital today where he died, reported the Associated Press agency.

Al Oerter with bronze bust of himself
(Victah Sailer / PhotoRun)

His wife Cathy Oerter, said “He was a gentle giant. He was bigger than life.”

IAAF President Lamine Diack commented: “with the sad passing of Al Oerter, the sport of Athletics has lost one of its foremost heroes. He was a colossus of a man who towered over this event setting an impeccable example to the youth of his era and today. The global Athletics family mourns his loss.”

Alfred ‘Al’ Adolph OERTER

Al Oerter - a portrait of the quadruple Olympic Discus champion
(Jonas Hedman)

The greatest athlete ever to compete in the men’s Discus Throw, Al Oerter of the USA, participated in four Olympic Games, always as the underdog, and came out each time as the winner, having set an Olympic record in the event. A native of Astoria, NY, Oerter won his first gold medal in Melbourne in 1956, while he was a student at the University of Kansas, upsetting fellow American Fortune Gordien and establishing an Olympic record of 56.36m.

Four years later, at the Olympic Trials for the Rome Games, he suffered his first defeat in more than two years when he lost to Rink Babka. Yet at the Olympics themselves, he topped Babka with an Olympic record throw of 59.18m.

The drama continued at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, where Ludvik Danek of Czechoslovakia, who had won 45 straight competitions, was the favourite. Suffering from a disc injury and torn cartilage in his lower ribs, Oerter was given little chance of success. Yet on his fifth throw, after removing his neck harness, Oerter became the first thrower to win three consecutive gold medals, thanks to a mighty 61.00m heave.

Among Olympic gold medalists who gathered at the New York Athletic Club on October 11th, 2006 to honor Al Oerter were Otis Davis, Bob Beamon, Jenny Thompson, Pat McCormick, Horace Ashenfelter, Tom Courtney, Ray Lumpp, Charley Moore ands Ollan Cassell.
(Victah Sailer / Photo Run)

He won his fourth gold in 1968, throwing another Olympic record, 64.78m, which was also then his life-time best, and in doing so he again upset Danek, and World record holder Jay Silvester.

After retiring in 1968, he returned eight years later to challenge for the 1980 and 1984 Olympic teams. Incredibly, in 1980, he achieved his best-ever throw (69.46m), aged 43. Oerter was elected to the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.

Throughout his career Oerter set 4 World records. In his recent life he had been an abstract painter having won several awards and has had numerous one man shows.


BBC reports…
Last Updated: Monday, 1 October 2007, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK

E-mail this to a friend Printable version

Olympic discus great Oerter dies

Oerter won his last Olympic title aged 32
America’s former Olympic discus champion Al Oerter has died aged 71 after suffering from high blood pressure and heart problems.
He won gold medals in four consecutive Olympics, a record only he and American sprinter Carl Lewis share in track and field.

But in each of Oerter’s successes in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968, the thrower from New York, set an Olympic record.

His wife Cathy Oerter said: “He was a gentle giant, he was bigger than life.”

Peter Ueberroth, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, added: "His legacy is one of an athlete who embodied all of the positive attributes associated with being an Olympian.

“He performed on the field of play with distinction and transferred that excellence to the role of advocate for the Olympic movement and its ideals.”

No doubt many big losses this year.

Parry O’Brien-two time gold medalist and one silver(52/56/60) and innovator of the O’Brien style or O’Brien glide still used today-along with rotational style.

Also the loss of Wilbur Ross-coach/advisor of many top hurdlers over the years. All the way back to the 50’s right here in Winston-Salem, NC. At Winston Salem State University-then Winston-Salem Teachers College with Elias Gilbert(w.r. for 110m highs and 220y lows in 1957), Fran Washington-national collegiate record for 400m hurdles-51.2 and ran 13.6 and Russ Rogers two time winner of Penn relays 110h and 400h- later Rogers was the relay coach who had the run-in with Lewis. He, Ross, coached and advised many other top hurdlers even up to the last few years. At times working with Nehemiah, Tony Dees, Jack Pierce, Lewis, Greg Foster, Andre Phillips, Mark McKoy(Charlie might be able to confirm this) and many more. Usually credited with developing the Critical Zone training method that among others, is used by Bobby Kersee.

On Oerter, I spoke with him briefly at the 1996 NSCA convention in Atlanta(held right before the U.S. oly trials) and he did seem to be a great guy. He was the keynote speaker at the convention.

Along with being the first to win gold in 4 consecutive olympic games later matched by Carl Lewis. He still owns the distinction of being the only man to do so while setting olympic records at each of those games. Is there a better big meet performer in Olympic games history for track and field? Certainly Lewis in there as well.

I was so impressed that at age 42/43 in 1979 he made an incredible comeback and he was more than just a nice story. He was very competitive in the event. He won an alternate spot(4th) for the 80 games the U.S. did not attend anyway.

NICE TRIBUTE in the New York Times

Al Oerter as a teenager competes at the 1956 Olympics. Photo by AP

Published: October 1, 2007

Al Oerter, a discus thrower who became the first modern track and field athlete to win four consecutive Olympic titles in one event and who competed into his 60s, died today in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 71 and lived in Fort Myers Beach.

His wife, Cathy Oerter, said doctors at a Fort Myers hospital had told her that the cause was either a heart attack or a blood clot. Oerter had had high blood pressure since he was young and heart problems in later years. When he was 61, three cardiologists told him he needed a heart transplant, he said. He declined, took pills instead and stopped lifting weights. Ten months later, he was lifting again.

Oerter (pronounced OAR-ter), a sandy-haired bear of a man who weighed as much as 297 pounds and stood 6 feet 4 inches, won Olympic gold medals in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968. Only Carl Lewis has duplicated the record, winning the long jump from 1984 through 1996.

Oerter’s sweep was all the more remarkable because in each case he broke the Olympic record, beat the world record holder, overcame an injury and was not the favorite to win. His winning throws were 184 feet 11 inches in Melbourne in 1956, 194-2 in Rome in 1960, 200-1 in Tokyo in 1964 and 212-6 in Mexico City in 1968.

Harold Connolly, an American hammer thrower who also won an Olympic gold medal, once told the sports columnist Stan Isaacs:

“In the opinion of many of us, he is the greatest field-event athlete of the century. There’s a magic about him when he’s competing. He’s nervous before the meet. He doesn’t eat well and his hands shake. But once the event is about to start, a calmness settles over him. The other athletes see it, and it intimidates them. They watch him, and they are afraid of what he might do.”

Typically, Oerter made light of his triumphs. In 1991, he told The Olympian magazine, “The first one, I was really young; the second, not very capable; the third, very injured; the fourth, old.”

The injury in his third Olympics, in 1964, occurred six days before competition was to begin. While throwing a discus — a 4.4-pound disc resembling a miniature flying saucer — he slipped on a wet concrete discus circle and tore rib cartilage on his right side (his throwing side), causing internal bleeding and severe pain. Team doctors told him to forget the Olympics and not throw for six weeks. He refused.

“These are the Olympics,” he was quoted as saying at the time. “You die before you quit.” He competed and won.


Alfred Oerter Jr., was born Sept. 19, 1936, in Astoria, Queens, and grew up on Long Island, in West Islip. At Sewanhaka High School, he was a sprinter and then a miler.

One day, he recalled, when a discus landed near his feet, he casually threw it back so far that the coach immediately made him a discus thrower. He became the national schoolboy record holder and went on to the University of Kansas, where a classmate was Wilt Chamberlain, the basketball great.

Oerter won two N.C.A.A. titles at Kansas and a business degree in 1959. Later, competing for the New York Athletic Club, he won six national championships and broke the world record six times.

In an era before elite track athletes trained full time, he worked full time as a computer executive for the Grumman aircraft company on Long Island. After his fourth gold medal, he retired from track, only to return many times.

In 1980, at age 43, he threw 227-11, a career best and the second longest in the world that year. In the 1980 United States Olympic trials, he finished fourth, one place and 4 feet short of making the team. (The team never competed in that year’s summer Olympics, held in Moscow, because of the boycott ordered by President Jimmy Carter to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.)


After Oerter’s last throw, the crowd in Eugene, Ore., gave him a five-minute standing ovation. He bowed. “That never happened to me before,” he explained.

When he was asked what he had to prove at that age, he replied: “You don’t understand. It’s not whether you get there. It’s the journey.”

He retired again, then re-emerged at 47 for the 1984 Olympic trials. He reached the finals, only to tear a calf muscle jogging before his last three throws.

In 1987, he quit elite competition for good, saying of it, “The drug culture had taken over.” He turned to meets for athletes 40 and older, setting world records for older age groups with a lighter discus. (“It feels like a potato chip,” he said.)

He recalled attending one such meet when he was 61. “I was showing some old duffers how to do it,” he said. “They were so excited competing. One guy said: ‘I just threw 120 feet. What did you do?’ I told him I just threw 204 feet.”

Besides his wife, the former Cathy Carroll, who once competed in international events in the long jump, Oerter is also survived by two daughters from a previous marriage, Crystiana Beardslee, of Mexico, N.Y., and Gabrielle Oerter of Colorado Springs; a sister, Marianne Boland, of Stormville, N.Y.; and three grandchildren.

In later years he became a well-traveled public and motivational speaker and took up abstract painting. He also helped found Art of the Olympians, a program to help fellow Olympians promote their art work.

In his 60s, after a visit to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, he lamented what he saw as a culture of professionalism entering track and field. “I saw athletes in their 30’s training full time,” he said. “That’s their life. What happened to the rest of it? I’m happy that I had a normal life, with a career and family. That makes a person whole.”

He also had no regrets about competing well into middle age.

“Have you ever seen a longer face than on an athlete who has quit in his prime?” he said