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Amsterdam 1928

Kuck's record-breaking shot at glory

Throughout his school life in Kansas, John Kuck was the most prodigious of field athletes, breaking a multitude of records in all the throwing disciplines.

Blessed with an agile frame and lightning bursts of speed, Kuck was among the favourites going into the Olympics in Amsterdam yet a broken ankle threatened to derail his chances before the competition even started. As a student at Emporia State University in Kansas, he broke the world record in the shot put and the javelin and after a distinguished athletics career which saw him break more than 100 records the Amsterdam Games were very much seen as a swansong.

He and the German thrower Emile Hirschfeld, who claimed a new world record of his own just months before the Games started, were the warm favourites for gold when the competition started. In the qualifying round at the Olympic Stadium his ankle injury was clear for all to see and he carefully threw the bare minimum to ensure his place in the six-man final. His US colleague, Herman Brix who would later become a prolific film actor, broke the Olympic record in qualifying.

Come the final and all the competitors were at the peak of their form. Using a more side-on throwing style to their modern-day equivalents, the standard was high. It was clear a throw near or better than Hirschfeld’s best mark of 15.79 would be required to take the gold. Hirschfeld fell four centimetres short but Kuck rose to the occasion. The pain from his ankle injury set to one side, Kuck sent the shot out to a new world record mark of 15.87. Hirschfeld would become the first man to break 16 metres at a meeting in his native Germany barely a month after the Games concluded.

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