March 26, 2008
Introduction to the discus
The ancient Greeks have described this event better than any other. They used stone and then bronze disks between two and six kilograms in weight and 21cm to 34cm in diameter.
The discus first appeared in the Ancient Games in 708 BC. In 1896 the discus was included in the revived Olympic Games in Athens. Throws were made from a pedestal that measured 60cm by 70cm. At the same time, the Swedes were throwing the discus from a 2.5m square.
In 1897, in the USA, the event took place in a seven foot diameter circle, increased to 2.50m in 1908. The discus itself was standardised in 1907 at 2kg in weight and 22cm in diameter.From the original static throw of 1900, styles evolved through the Nordic swinging throw to the current style, introduced by Clarence Houser (USA) in 1926, of turning and skipping before release. Both hands contests, where aggregates were recorded, were organised until the 1920s, when single hand contests became the norm.
In 1954 the concrete throwing circle was introduced, greatly increasing the possible speed of rotation.The first recorded women’s results, with a discus weighing 1.25kg, date back to 1914 (USA) with contests also held around the world using 1.5kg implements. A standard 1kg discus was adopted for the Olympic Games in 1928 while the IAAF ratified its first official world record in 1936.
First official world record: 48.31 Gisela Mauermayer GER 1936
First over 50m: 50.50 Nina Dumbadze URS 1946
First over 60m: 61.26 Liesel Westermann FRG 1967
First over 65m: 65.42 Faina Melnik URS 1972
First over 70m: 70.20 Faina Melnik 1975
First over 75m: 76.80 Gabriele Reinsch GDR 1988
Most durable world record: 76.80 Gabriele Reinsch 1988 (12 years)
Most competitions over 72m: Diana Gansky GDR 7
Most Olympic titles:
2 Nina Ponomaryova URS 1952/1960
2 Evelin Jahl GDR 1976/1980
Most World titles: 2 Martina Hellmann GDR 1983/1987
Youngest Olympic/World champion: Evelin Jahl 1976 (20) Oldest: Lia Manoliu ROM 1968 (36)
Three all time greats
Lia Manoliu (ROM): At her fifth Games (1968) she became at 36 the oldest of all women’s Olympic champions and went on to compete in 1972 for a record sixth appearance.
Faina Melnik (URS): The 1972 Olympic champion established 11 world records between 1971 and 1976, record number ten being a barrier-breaking 70.20m.
Evelin Jahl (GDR): Only 20 when, as Evelin Schlaak, she lifted her first Olympic crown in 1976, she won again four years later. In between those successes she set world records of 70.72m and 71.50m.
First official world record: 47.58 James Duncan USA 1912
First over 50m: 51.03 Eric Wenz USA 1930
First over 55m: 55.33 Adolfo Consolini ITA 1948
First over 60m: 60.56 Jay Silvester USA 1961
First over 200ft: 61.10 Al Oerter USA 1962
First over 65m: 65.22 Ludvik Danek TCH 1965
First over 70m: 70.24 Mac Wilkins USA 1976
First over 72/73/74m: 74.08 Jürgen Schult GDR 1986
Click here for ALL-TIME lists
Most durable world record: 74.08 Jürgen Schult 1986 (16 years)
Most competitions over 70m: Mac Wilkins 10
Most Olympic titles: 4 Al Oerter 1956/1960/1964/1968
Most World titles: 5 Lars Riedel GER 1991/1993/1995/1997/2001
Youngest Olympic/World champion: Al Oerter 1956 (20) Oldest: Ludvik Danek 1972 (35)
Three all time greats
Al Oerter (USA): One of the greatest of all Olympic competitors with his four gold medals over a 12-year span. A former world record breaker, he produced his longest throw of 69.46m in 1980 when aged 43!
Jürgen Schult (GER): Winner of Olympic, world and European titles, he has been world record holder with 74.08m since 1986 - and at 40 remains a world class competitor.
Lars Riedel (GER): Olympic champion in 1996 (by a massive 2.80m margin), he also won four consecutive world titles in the 1990s. A hip muscle injury held him back to third place when bidding for a fifth in 1999, something which he finally achieved in 2001, when he won World gold again in Edmonton.
Is it for me?
The discus is a throw without utilitarian value, a child’s game for all ages. This ballet without music has fascinated since remote antiquity, when great sculptors used the discus thrower to symbolise athletics. The discus thrower must add a wide reach, speed on the turn and a sense of rhythm to the shot putter’s sturdy skills. Success means taking advantage of the centrifugal force engendered by whirling inside a concrete circle 2.50 metre in diameter before a final energetic release. The whole body contributes to the action. The discus thrower is a dancer who performs the most complex and beautiful choreography in athletics.
For the Expert
Athletes with exceptional rhythm and orienting capabilities are especially well suited to discus throwing. They must also posses musculature with great speed strength and the shoulder and chest muscles are of primary importance in the final acceleration of the discus. Good hip, trunk and shoulder flexibility is also advantageous.
External influences in discus throwing
The men’s discus was standardized to a weight of 2 kg and diameter of 22 cm in 1907. Women’s discus was not included in the Olympic Games until 1928 and weighs 1 kg. Since 1928 the discus is thrown from a 2. 5 m diameter throwing circle. This requirement limits the possibilities of giving the discus the necessary initial acceleration. The one and a half turn technique prior to release has become universally established with the world’s best despite some attempts with two or more turns. The movements of the athlete include a flight or transfer phase which introduces the decisive release phase. The quality of the execution of the rotating movements is considerably influenced by the characteristics of the throwing circle. Improved conditions are provided for accelerating the discus when the friction is greatest. The friction between the athlete’s shoes and the throwing circle is especially reduced during rain which leads to the risk of slipping. It is therefore, very difficult to provide the required standing stability during the main accelerating phase prior to release. Wind conditions in the stadium influence the discus flight. Head wind generally improves the distance rather than tail wind. The discus must land in a 40° sector.
Biomechanical factors in discus throwing
In the movement sciences the athlete’s rotation movements are divided into
1 two-legged start phase pre-acceleration
2 one-legged start phase pre-acceleration
3 stance release transfer
4 one-legged release phase final acceleration
5 two-legged release phase final acceleration
The two-legged release phase is of major importance as it represents the main accelerating phase of the discus. Approximately 70% of the release velocity are produced by the thrower during this movement phase. The execution of the final acceleration phase is of special movement technical importance because the release velocity is the characteristic with the greatest influence upon the distance thrown. All prior movements serve to prepare the final acceleration. Starting swing, start phase and the transfer lead the thrower into the so-called power position. In this phase the discus already experiences a pre-acceleration up to 30% of its final velocity. The temporal pattern of the movement sequences is performed individually different. It is, however, amazing which consistency world class athletes demonstrate in their movement rhythm. This excludes the possibility of making universal recommendations for the rhythm. However, it would also be incorrect to neglect the pre-acceleration phases because of their small influence upon the throwing performance. An optimal power position can only be achieved if these are executed safely and reproducibly.
The power position itself must provide beneficial conditions to facilitate an optimal throw. The discus should be accelerated to a velocity of about 80 km/h over the longest possible acceleration path while utilizing the pre-stretched chest and shoulder musculature. The relationship “greater release velocity = greater distance” only has theoretical validity. There is an individual optimum as seen in the long jump or triple jump. It is therefore, quite possible to release the discus at an excessive velocity. This usually results in an uncontrolled throw with negative influences upon the other performance determining characteristics and consequently the distance thrown.
The point of release should be as high as possible above the ground. This represents one of the few differences between men’s and women’s discus. Female throwers achieve lower release heights due to their smaller stature. A controversial theme is whether the release itself should be performed with both feet in contact with the ground. The “jumping throw” in which ground contact is lost prior to release is seen primarily in the men’s discus. From a biomechanical perspective the “standing jump” as performed by Lars Riedel (GER) and the world record holder Jürgen Schult (GER) and also the majority of elite female throwers is to be preferred. It is only possible to accelerate the discus up until the last instance prior to release if a solid ground contact is present. An optimal twisting of the shoulders relative to the hips and a throwing arm held far back are prerequisites for a good acceleration out of the power position.
Next to release height and velocity a third factor influencing the distance thrown is the release angle. At the elite level this lies between 33 and 38°. No data is available describing the extent to which throwers can adapt the release angle to the present wind conditions.