Lillian Copeland

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Lillian Copeland
Lillian Copeland 1938.jpg
Lillian Copeland in 1938
Personal information
Born November 24, 1904
New York, United States
Died July 7, 1964 (aged 59)
Los Angeles, United States
Height 1.65 m (5 ft 5 in)
Weight 59 kg (130 lb)
Sport Athletics
Event(s) Discus throw, shot put, javelin throw
Club LAAC, Los Angeles
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) DT – 40.58 m (1932)
SP – 9.38 m (1925)
JT – 38.21 m (1927)[1][2]

Lillian Copeland (November 24, 1904 – July 7, 1964) was an American track and field athlete, who excelled in weight throwing. She has been called "the most successful female discus thrower in U.S. history",[3] and also held multiple titles in shot put and javelin throwing.

Until the Beijing Games, she was the only American woman to win the discus throw at a modern Olympiad.[4] She was also the first Olympian who was an alumna of the University of Southern California and Los Angeles High School.[5]

Early life[edit]

Copeland was born Lillian Drossin to Polish Jewish immigrants in New York. Her father died when she was young, and after her mother remarried they moved to Los Angeles and changed their last names.[1]

Athletic career[edit]

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. She excelled in all throwing events; in the shot put, she won the AAU championships 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.[5][6] However, according to the USATF Hall of Fame, she only held one world record, in javelin throw.[7] 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[5] or US national[7] 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.[8]

Returning to America, she enrolled in the University of Southern California law school, and became less focused on sports.[5] 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.[5] This also meant that it was a new Olympic Record, bettering Konopacka's mark in Amsterdam.[8]

Although she had begun preparations to defend her Los Angeles gold at the Berlin Games, she ultimately chose to boycott them.[6] As a Jew, she was strongly opposed to Adolf Hitler's edict barring Jews from the German Olympic team.[3] Consequently, Copeland's appearance at the 1935 Maccabiah Games — where she won the titles in her three events — proved her final major competition.

Honorary memberships[edit]

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.[5]

Later career[edit]

Copeland's main career off the field was law enforcement. She worked at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department until 1960.[1][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lillian Copeland.
  2. ^ Lillian Copeland.
  3. ^ a b Crumpacker, John (2008-08-19). "US women's 1st discus gold since '32". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  4. ^ "U.S. hopes hatch from 'golden egg'". Yahoo! Sports. 2008-08-18. Retrieved 2008-08-18. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Lilian Copeland (biography)". Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  6. ^ a b Lillian Copeland. Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
  7. ^ a b Biography at the USATF Hall of Fame. Retrieved on 2015-08-21.
  8. ^ a b Lillian Copeland. Jewish Women's Archive

External links[edit]