In ancient times, spear-throwers were hunters seeking food. Today, Olympic spear-throwers seek gold. The javelins themselves have changed over the years, making distance comparisons often irrelevent. But raw distance has little to do with the excitement often generated in Olympic javelin competitions.
1. 1932 - Babe sets three marksAmerican Babe Didrikson qualified for five events in 1932 but Olympic rules limited her to three, so she chose javelin, 80-meter hurdles and high jump and set records in all three events. In the javelin, her first throw was her best, even though it slipped out of her hand. The toss, measuring 143 feet, 4 inches (43.68 meters) established an Olympic record and stood up for her first gold medal. Next, Didrikson won the hurdles in a world record time of 11.7 seconds, then gained a silver in the high jump after she and American Jean Shirley both cleared a world record 5-5¼ (1.657 meters). Shirley became the winner when Didrikson’s western-roll technique was ruled an illegal dive, but Didrikson retained her status as co-world record holder.
2. 1968/1972 - Final-round frenzyJanis Lusis of the Soviet Union had two of the most memorable final-round throws in Olympic history. He led the 1968 competition after two rounds, then fell behind Hungary’s Gergely Kulcsar, whose fourth-round throw measured 285 feet, 7 inches. Lusis regained the lead with a toss of 295-7 (90.10 meters) in the sixth round. The drama wasn’t over, however, until Finland’s Jorma Kinnunen’s final throw fell short at 290-7, leaving Lusis with the gold medal and an Olympic record. Lusis also led early in 1972, until German Klaus Wolfermann moved in front with a then-Olympic record throw of 296-10 (90.48 meters) in the fifth round. Attempting his second straight come-from-behind Olympic victory, Lusis’ sixth-round toss fell an inch shy at 296-9.
3. 1988 - Korjus edges ZeleznyThe men’s gold medal was settled on the final throw of the Seoul Games. Finland’s Tapio Korjus led after two rounds but passed in the third and fourth rounds due to leg cramps. In the meantime, Czechoslovakia’s Jan Zelezny and Seppo Raty of Finland passed Korjus, who remained in third when he stepped to the line as the final thrower of the day. His toss traveled 276 feet, 6 inches (84.28 meters), six inches past Zelezny’s best effort. The Czech settled for silver, then won the next three Olympic golds.