Oerter at the Rome 1960 Olympics
|Full name||Alfred Adolph Oerter, Jr.|
September 19, 1936|
Astoria, New York, United States
|Died||October 1, 2007
Fort Myers, Florida, United States
|Height||6 ft 3 1⁄2 in (192 cm)|
|Weight||276 lb (125 kg)|
|Updated on 12 June 2015.|
Alfred Oerter, Jr. (September 19, 1936 – October 1, 2007) was an American athlete, and a four-time Olympic Champion in the discus throw. He was the first athlete to win a gold medal in the same event in four consecutive Olympics (the others being Carl Lewis and Michael Phelps). Oerter is an inductee of the IAAF Hall of Fame.
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. Competing for Kansas, in 1957 he became the NCAA discus champion; in 1958 he successfully defended his title.
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 feet 22 inches (56.64 m)—which, at the time, was a career best. The throw was good enough to win the competition by more than 5 inches (130 mm).
It seemed Oerter's career would be over at the age of 20, when in 1957, an automobile accident nearly killed him. He recovered in time to compete at the 1960 Summer Olympics at Rome, where he 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; Oerter threw his discus 194 feet 2 inches (59.18 m), setting an Olympic record. Babka was not able to beat Oerter's throw and finished with 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 metres (200 ft).
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 metres (212.5 ft) 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. Later eyeing a comeback, in 1976 he took anabolic steroids under medical supervision in order to put on muscle mass. However, he stopped the course as this affected his blood pressure and failed to give much improvement on the field. After this he advised athletes to avoid such drugs and focus on training and technique instead. He was critical of the increase of drug use and the subsequent testing in track and field, stating that it had destroyed the culture of athlete camaraderie and that the banning of athletes such as Ben Plucknett was merely scapegoating by international officials.
Oerter 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 metres (227.9 ft) that year at the age of 43. When filming for a TV segment, he unofficially threw about 245 feet (75 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, death and Art of the Olympians
Oerter had struggled with high blood pressure his entire life, and in the 2000s, he 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.
In 2005, Oerter was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.
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.
In 2006 he founded the Art of the Olympians (AOTO) organization and held an Olympian Art exhibition in his home town of Fort Myers. This first show included artworks and sculptures from 14 Olympians, including Florence Griffith-Joyner, Roald Bradstock, Shane Gould, Cameron Myler, Rink Babka and Larry Young. Later that year the exhibit traveled to New York City for shows at the United Nations, the New York Athletic Club and then at the National Arts Club. AOTO also had their work on display on the giant Panasonic Astro-Vision screen in Times Square for the entire month November 2006. Oerter and other Olympian artists were also featured on the CBS Morning Show to discuss their New York Tour.
In the Summer of 2007, Art of the Olympians were given the rights to use the word Olympian by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) – an act protected by Congress. On August 1, 2007 Art of the Olympians was awarded a 501 (c) (3) status.
As Oerter's heart 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." Oerter died on October 1, 2007, of heart failure in Fort Myers, Florida at the age of 71.
On March 7, 2009, the Al Oerter Recreation Center, operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, officially opened along Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Flushing, Queens.
Art of the Olympians continues to grow 10 years after their first Exhibition. The organization now has 29 Olympian and Paralympian artists on its roster including two posthumous members: Al Oerter and Florence Griffith-Joyner. Over the past decade Art of the Olympians artists and their artwork have been seen on numerous TV networks including CBS, NBC, BBC, CNN, PBS, the USA Network and UK’s Channel Four and had Exhibitions at three Olympic and Paralympic Games: Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 and London 2012. And for three and half years, between 2010 and 2013, AOTO had dozens of group and solo exhibitions at their museum and gallery in Fort Myers, Florida.
- "Al Oerter". sports-reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
- Holmstrom, David (1990-04-02). Al Oerter Breaks the Age Barrier With Every Toss . Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved on 2015-01-15.
- BANNING OF PLUCKNETT CALLED UNFAIR BY PEERS. New York Times (1981-07-29). Retrieved on 2015-01-15.
- "Art of the Olympians | Founders Story". artoftheolympians.org. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
- "Art of the Olympians | Timeline". artoftheolympians.org. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
- Sports Illustrated, July 2–9, 2007, p. 120.
- "Olympic discus great Al Oerter dies at 71". Webcitation.org. Archived from the original on December 15, 2010. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
- Official website
- "Al Oerter". Find a Grave. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
- Obituary, The Times, 3 October 2007
- Obituary, The Independent, 4 October 2007
- Masters T&F Discus Throw All-Time Rankings
|Men's Discus World Record Holder
May 18 – June 4, 1962
July 1 – August 2, 1964