Al Oerter is a four-time Olympic champion in the discus (1956, Melbourne; 1960, Rome; 1964, Tokyo; 1968, Mexico City) and a 1981 NYAC Hall of Fame inductee.
Oerter began his discus career at the age of 15 at his high school in Queens, NY. He earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas, where he won back to back NCAA championships in 1957 and 1958. These titles were preceded, however, by a stunning gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, the first of a remarkable four over 12 years.
Having repeated as Olympic champion at the 1960 Games in Rome, Oerter faced his toughest challenge in his attempt to win his third Olympic title, in Tokyo in 1964. Six days before the Opening Ceremony, he slipped and fell in training, tearing the cartilage in his ribs and suffering internal bleeding. Doctors told him that he could not throw for six weeks. The Olympics were out of the question.
Rather than forgo the Games, Oerter decided to throw through the pain. “These are the Olympics and you die for them,” he said. Despite the intense pain, Oerter won his third Olympic crown. The winning throw was his fifth, an attempt that he knew would be his last, the pain having become too great for him to take all six of his allotted throws. With that attempt, Oerter reached 61 meters/200’1” to take the victory. Having collapsed in the circle before the discus landed, he only realized that he had won by the roars of the crowd. The throw was also an Olympic record.
Four years later, at the 1968 Mexico City Games, Oerter secured his fourth consecutive gold medal, becoming the first man in history to win the same event at four consecutive Olympic Games. Notably, all four victories produced Olympic records.
Despite being one of the greatest Olympians in history, Oerter remained modest. Commenting on his stunning performances, he said: “The first one, I was really young; the second, not capable; the third, very injured; the fourth, old.”
Al Oerter passed away from heart complications in 2007 at the age of 71, but his mark on the New York Athletic Club, on the sport of track and field and on the Olympic Games is indelible.