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Medal record
Men's Athletics
Competitor for the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold 1956 Melbourne Discus throw
Gold 1960 Rome Discus throw
Gold 1964 Tokyo Discus throw
Gold 1968 Mexico City Discus throw
Pan American Games
Gold 1959 Chicago Discus throw

Alfred Adolf Oerter, Jr. (September 19, 1936 – October 1, 2007) was an American athlete, and a four time Olympic Champion in the discus throw.

He is, along with Carl Lewis (long-jump) and Paul Elvstrøm (sailing), are the only athletes to have won a gold medal in the same individual event for four consecutive Olympics.

In 2005, he was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.


Olympic athlete

Born in Astoria, Queens, New York City, Al Oerter grew up in New Hyde Park and attended Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park. He 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.

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 184'11" (56.36 m) - which, at the time, was a career best. The throw was good enough to win the competition by more than 5'.

It appeared Oerter's career would be over at the age of 20, when in 1957, an automobile accident nearly killed him. He did recover in time to compete at the 1960 Summer Olympics at Rome, where Oerter 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 and Oerter threw his discus 194'2" (59.18 m), setting an Olympic record. Babka was not able to beat Oerter's throw and finished with the 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 then he tore 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 from his ribs. As before, he bettered his own record with a throw of 61.00 meters.

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 Oerter 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 meters 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. 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 meters (227'10¾") that year at the age of 43. When filming for a TV segment, he unofficially threw about 245 feet (74.67 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.

Later life

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. He also helped to organize Art of the Olympians, which has collected the work of 14 Games veterans, including Bob Beamon, Cammy Myler, and Shane Gould. The exhibit travelled to New York City and will find a permanent home in a waterfront gallery in Fort Myers, Florida. Before his death, Oerter was close to obtaining the rights to use the Olympic rings on the gallery building. It would have been one of the few buildings in the world allowed to do so.

Oerter had struggled with high blood pressure his entire life, and in the 2000s, Oerter 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 around his heart.

As Oerter's 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."[1] Oerter died on October 1, 2007 of heart failure in Fort Myers, Florida.[2]


  • Loaned his 1968 gold medal to the producers of the 1979 Susan Anton film Goldengirl. It was "ruined," Oerter said later.


  1. ^ Sports Illustrated, July 2-9, 2007, p. 120.
  2. ^ [1]

External links

Preceded by
United States Jay Silvester
Men's Discus World Record Holder
May 18, 1962 – June 4, 1962
Succeeded by
Soviet Union Vladimir Trusenyev
Preceded by
Soviet Union Vladimir Trusenyev
Men's Discus World Record Holder
July 1, 1962 – August 2, 1964
Succeeded by
Czechoslovakia Ludvík Daněk


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