How did people get so much better at discus?

In the Olympic spirit and inspired by this interactive Slate article on the comparisons between Olympians of yore and those of today, I wanted to ask if anyone knows how the discus throw records in particular have changed so dramatically. I understand how our athletes have modern training methods now, and more importantly the ability to devote themselves singlemindedly to their chosen sport, so it makes sense that they’ve got better abilities now. But while sprinters of a century ago probably wouldn’t be contenders today, they are nonetheless still pretty fast. How on earth can modern athletes throw the discus nearly two and a half times farther than the champions of yesteryear? Technology? Better grip? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that the event has really changed that much in . . . well, ever, actually.

I’m guessing the disc itself has changed over time. Different materials, better aerodynamics, weighting, and spin maybe. Just a guess though.

I’d probably go with technology. When were rim weighted discs developed?
I’m guessing discs of yore were just the same all the way through.


My WAG: better understanding of throwing mechanics and development of better spin technique. From the Wikipedia “Discus Throw” article: “… The technique of discus throwing is quite difficult to master and needs lots of experience to get right, thus most top throwers are 30 years old or more.”

Slight hijack: reading that article informed me that every throw I made in junior high was illegal - the rubber disc we used was damaged, with a small notch in the edge that was perfect fit for my index finger.

The chart in the article is a little misleading. While the Olympic winner in 1900 had a throw of 118’, the world record that year was 150’ - Between 1900 and today the world record has improved to 243’; a significant improvement but nothing like 2.5x.

Moved to the Game Room.

General Questions Moderator

There are a lot of differences:
[li]The technology of the disc itself, as has already been mentioned.[/li][li]The throwing surface: in the olden days it was a dirt circle, now it tends to be an impermeable surface such as smooth concrete that facilitates the spinning throwing style.[/li][li]The spinning throwing style, which is a relatively recent innovation.[/li][li]The development and availability of specialized shoes to facilitate the spinning throwing style. They’ve got kind of dome-shaped soles in order to provide the thrower with something closer to a single point of contact with the ground (I used to throw in high school and college).[/li][li]Video and film technology to enable competitors to practice proper form.[/li][li]Fitness, nutrition, etc. that result in better strength.[/li][/ul]

Is this where we come to discuss discus?

This pageconfirms the story told in some silly movie about the first Modern Olympics. American Robert Garrett had practised with a discus he made himself that weighed about 30 pounds, and he didn’t want to compete in that event because his throws were so bad. He set the record using a standard 5 pound discus at the games. He seems to be credited with inventing the modern spinning style as well.

In my very brief track and field career at an early age I threw a discus a couple of times. It took surprising strength to keep the discus stable at the point of release and get the right trajectory. My throws were pretty short. Let’s just say I was lucky the thing didn’t land on my foot.

I’ve always been impressed by Al Oerter. He won gold in four consecutive Olympic Games from 1956 to 1968. Each time he was not considered the likely winner, but pulled out it clutch performances. They probably grow them bigger now, but in his time he was a giant at 6’4", and competing at over 275 pounds. All muscle and solid as a tree trunk. One of America’s greatest Olympians.