This event demonstrates how far athletes have progressed in the past century. Today’s men throw the 16-pound ball twice as far as the competitors in the 1896 Games. Women’s improvement has measured about 65 percent since shot put became a women’s event in 1948.
1. 1988 - Lisovskaya dominatesRussia’s Natalya Lisovskaya dominated the shot put competition in 1988 as few Olympic athletes have ever done. All six of her attempts flew farther than the silver medal-winning toss of Kathrin Neimke of East Germany, which measured 69 feet, 1-½ inches. Lisovskaya won by almost four feet with a winning put of 72-11¾ (22.24 meters). Neimke’s effort, though inferior to Lisovskaya’s, was more dramatic. Coming on her final attempt, her toss elevated her to runner-up status by one centimeter ahead of China’s Li Meisu.
2. 1988 - Timmermann sets the standardThe Olympic record book took a beating in Seoul, beginning in round one of the final when Switzerland’s Werner Gunthor set a new mark with a toss measuring 70 feet, 4-½ inches. The record didn’t survive the round, however, as East German Ulf Timmermann took the lead at 72-3. But Timmermann was just getting warmed up. He reached 72-8½ in the third round and 73-1½ in the fourth. Then American Randy Barnes, who sat fourth after five rounds, finished with a toss of 73-5½ to move into the lead. Only one other attempt in Olympic shot put history has traveled farther. Unfortunately for Barnes, that came two competitors later when Timmermann set an Olympic mark that still stands with a throw measuring 73-8¾ (22.47 meters).
3. 1996 - Barnes succeeds under pressureSay what you will about Randy Barnes (who received a lifetime suspension in 1998 for testing positive for androstenedione, an over-the-counter supplement that had only been recently banned by the IAAF), he could certainly perform when it counted most. He went from fourth to first with his final put in 1988, although he had to settle for silver. In 1996 he moved from sixth to first in the final round and this time was rewarded with the gold. Four different competitors had led the event through five rounds but Barnes flew past them all with a toss measuring 70 feet, 11-¼ inches (21.62 meters) in the sixth. Barnes’ winning effort beat American silver medalist John Godina (68-2½) by almost three feet.