Considered by many to be the greatest modern Olympic competitor, Al Oerter is the first athlete to win four gold medals at four successive Olympiads and the only athlete to set four consecutive Olympic records. He won the Gold in Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, and Mexico City 1968 even though he was never the favorite and had never won the Olympic Trials.
Oerter had been throwing less than five years when he competed in his first Olympic Games. Then, at age 20, on his first throw in the finals, he broke the Olympic record and won the gold medal.
After being seriously injured in an automobile accident in 1957, Oerter came back to win his second gold medal in the 1960 Games in Rome.
Four years later, at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, Oerter tore a huge section of his rib cage a few days before the Olympic final. Against doctors’ orders and with his ribs heavily taped, Oerter captured his third gold medal.
And, in Mexico City in 1968, Oerter not only took his fourth gold medal, he also set his fourth Olympic record. Oerter won six National Championships during this period and set the World Record four times.
Oerter retired after the 1968 Games in order to raise his two daughters and continue his management career in the computer industry. He resumed training in 1976 at age 40 and recorded his lifetime best results between ages 43 and 47.
In May 1980, Oerter threw his best official throw ever, 227 feet 11 inches. This throw, more than 15 feet farther than his winning effort in Mexico City in 1968, could have won him the Moscow Olympic gold medal but the United States boycotted these Games.
In September of ’82, at age 45, while filming for ESPN’s “Future Sports”, Oerter threw the discus beyond 240’. In a competition this would have been a world record.
The discus, however, is not Oerter’s livelihood. He worked in data processing management for almost 30 years and enjoyed his career in promotions and as a successful motivational speaker. Al brought to his talks an understanding of what it takes to be at your best over long periods of time. This includes setting inward goals, long-term vision, overcoming barriers that impede progress, understanding what competition is about and the value of a healthy work ethic. As a member of eighteen Halls of Fame including Charter membership in the US Olympic Hall of Fame, Oerter has been selected to represent the U.S. Olympic Committee in numerous national speaking events, promotions and fund raising campaigns. Al was honored as the first athlete recipient of ‘The Olympic Order’ the highest award issued by the International Olympic Committee.
Al was a successful abstract artist and founder of Art of the Olympians featuring Olympian artists from around the world demonstrating the real relationship between art and sport as the Olympic founders intended.
As his wife and most devoted fan, it can honestly be said that Al was a greater man than he was an athlete. Although his accomplishments on the field of play were outstanding in all record books, his human qualities shined far brighter. Al’s inspiration was a living example to all he met and a reminder of the simple pleasures that life offered. Comfortable in his own skin, Al enjoyed the moment in front of him....watching a sun rise or birds floating in the sky. He was a big ship on the ocean of life never wobbling or unsure, content to steadily move forward enjoying every part of the voyage.
Beyond the Towel - by Krystal Rice