Introduction to the Discus Throw

Al Oerter won four consecutive Olympic discus gold medals, from 1956-1968. Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Technique :

As in all throwing events, strength is important in the discus throw. Equally important are agility and balance as the thrower executes the spins necessary to generate speed and power, while moving from the back of the throwing circle toward the front. The thrower must also make sure not to step outside of the circle - even during the follow through - which results in a foul. Read more details about discus throw technique.

What to look for :

The throwing circle is slightly larger than the circle used for the hammer and the shot put. The discus circle has an inside diameter of 2.5 meters. Nevertheless, fouling is common. Occasionally, a thrower will be so upset with an attempt that he'll step forward out of the circle, rather than leaving the circle from the back, causing an intentional foul. The circle is surrounded in the back and on the sides by a cage, which is designed to catch errant throws and prevent injury to bystanders. Any throw that touches the cage is recorded as a foul. 

In large championship competitions, such as the Olympics or World Championships, throwers qualify for the final by throwing farther than the automatic qualifying distance, or by finishing among the top 12 competitors. If more than 12 throwers surpass the automatic qualification distance, all of them advance. In the final, each competitor takes three attempts, and then the top eight throwers take three more.

The longest single throw wins.

World records:

Discus is the only event in which the women’s world record is superior to the men’s mark. That’s because, at the senior level, women throw a 1-kilogram discus while the men’s discus weighs 2 kilograms.

Both world records were set by East Germans competing in the German city of Neubrandenberg.

Jurgen Schult set the men’s mark of 74.08 meters (243 feet, 0 inches) on June 6, 1986, while Gabriele Reinsch established the women’s record with a toss of 76.80 meters (252 feet, 0 inches) on July 9, 1988. Schult's mark is the longest-standing world record in men's track and field history, surpassing the 25-year 79-day reign of Jesse Owens' 1936 long jump world mark.

Olympic Discus Throw Highlights:

The discus throw was part of the ancient Greek Olympics, and has been part of the men's program at the modern Olympics from the beginning, in 1896. Through the 2012 Games there have been four multiple gold-medal winners in the men's discus. Martin Sheridan of the United States won two official gold medals, in 1904 and 1908, and also finished first at the semi-official 1906 Intercalated Games. Another American, Bud Houser, earned back-to-back gold medals in 1924 and 1928. American Al Oerter strung together four consecutive victories, from 1956 through 1968, and improved his winning distance each time. Virgilijus Alekna of Lithuania earned gold medals in 2000 and 2004, and added a bronze medal in 2008.

The discus throw has also been a part of every women's Olympic program, beginning in 1928, when women were first permitted to compete in the Games.

Through 2012, two women have earned a pair of discus gold medals apiece, though each did so under two different names. Russia's Nina Romashkova won the 1952 discus competition, then did so again in 1960 under her married name of Ponomaryova. Likewise, East Germany's Evelin Schlaak took the gold in 1976, and then again in 1980, competing under the name Evelin Jahl.

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Rosenbaum, Mike. "Introduction to the Discus Throw." ThoughtCo, Aug. 23, 2016, Rosenbaum, Mike. (2016, August 23). Introduction to the Discus Throw. Retrieved from Rosenbaum, Mike. "Introduction to the Discus Throw." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 17, 2017).