First Olympic Success
The Olympics transformed Oerter into an athlete of international stature. In The Olympics: 80 Years of People, Events and Records, edited by Lord Killanin and John Rodda, it was acknowledged that Oerter has been "often cited as the Supreme Olympic athletics competitor…" (Here the term "athletics" refers to track and field events.) In 1956 the summer Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia. Down through the years the United States had always fielded a strong discus team and that year Oerter's colleagues in the event included Fortune Gordien and Desmond Koch. Gordien had won the bronze medal in the 1948 Olympics and was the world record holder. The twenty-year-old Oerter stunned the world when he not only won the gold medal, but in doing so set a new Olympic record with a throw of 56.36 meters (184 feet, 101/2 inches). The U.S. swept the discus competition that year: Fortune won the silver medal and Koch the bronze. Oerter would improve on his winning distance in each of the three succeeding Olympics.