|Competitor for the United States|
|Gold||1932 Los Angeles||Discus throw|
|Silver||1928 Amsterdam||Discus throw|
|Gold||2nd Maccabiah||Discus throw|
|Gold||2nd Maccabiah||Javelin throw|
|Gold||2nd Maccabiah||Shot put|
Lillian Copeland (November 25, 1904 – July 7, 1964) was an American athlete, who excelled in weight throwing. She has been called "the most successful female discus thrower in U.S. history", despite the fact that she held multiple titles in shot put and javelin throwing as well.
Copeland competed during the formative decades of women's competition in track and field. Consequently, her accomplishments are not fully described by the two medals she won in the discus throw. In truth, she excelled in all throwing events, but perhaps most notably in the shot put. She won the AAU championships in that event 5 times (1924–28, 1931). In addition, she won the AAU discus throw title in 1926 and 1927, and the javelin throw title in 1926 and 1931. In the latter event, she broke the world record three times in 1926 and 1927. According to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, she is said to have set the world record six times each in shot put, javelin and discus from 1925-1932. However, according to the USATF Hall of Fame, she only held one world record, in javelin throw. It is unclear why the two sources are so radically different in their accounts.
The 1928 Summer Olympics were the first Olympics to include women's track and field events. In weight throwing Copeland could only compete in the discus throw, because the shot put and javelin throw were not yet on the program (they would follow in 1948 and 1932, respectively). Prior to the Olympiad, she ran the lead leg in the 440-yard (400 m) relay in the 1928 Olympic trials. In so doing, she helped the US Women's team set a new record in the event of 50.0 seconds, and actually qualified for the Olympics in that event. Sources disagree, however, whether it was a world or US national record.
Once in Amsterdam, however, she only competed in the discus throw, where she finished second to Poland's Halina Konopacka. Because it was the first time the event had been held, she was the sport's first silver medalist.
Returning to America, she enrolled in the University of Southern California law school, and became less focused on sports. Nevertheless, she made the 1932 Olympic team for the discus throw. Competing in her home town, she moved into gold medal position with her last throw. That throw of 133.16 feet (40.59 m) was also a new world record. This also meant that it was a new Olympic Record, bettering Konopacka's mark in Amsterdam.
Although she had begun preparations to defend her Los Angeles gold at the Berlin Games, she ultimately chose to boycott them. As a Jew, she was strongly opposed to Adolf Hitler's ban against Jews on the German Olympic team. Consequently, Copeland's appearance at the 1935 Maccabiah Games — where she won the titles in her three events — proved her final major competition.
In view of her contributions to women's track and field, she was made a posthumous member of the USATF Hall of Fame, the Helms Athletic Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
- Crumpacker, John (2008-08-19). "US women's 1st discus gold since '32". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
- "U.S. hopes hatch from 'golden egg'". Yahoo! Sports. 2008-08-18. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
- "Lilian Copeland (biography)". jewsinsports.org. unknown, but after 2000. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
- Jewish Sports Hall of Fame biography of Copeland
- Biography at the USATF Hall of Fame
- Jewish Women's Archive biography of Lillian Copeland
- Photo of Lillian Copeland in 1926, PhillyHistory.org.