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18 Oct 1968
Mexico 1968

Manoliu wins discus gold at fifth time of asking

There were youngsters in these Games who broke away from lessons to win a gold medal.

The Olympic Games have always had the ability to turn young athletes into superstars and to propel little-known newcomers into global stars.

But there has always been a place for those at the other end of the age school – those who have persevered and tried throughout their career without ever getting the victory they craved. Those may be the triumphs we enjoy most – when a lifelong dream is fulfilled just as it seemed the chance had gone.

So it was for the discus thrower Lia Manoliu of Romania. Manoliu was competing in her fifth Games and, at the age of 36, had never before won gold. Sixth back in 1952, ninth four years after than, and then bronze medals in both 1960 and 1964. It was – and is – a fine athletic record, but it was missing something – the glint of gold. But no woman had ever won a track and field gold medal at such an age, and she was facing a formidable opponent.

The previous year, West Germany's Liesl Westermann had become the first woman to throw the discus more than 200 feet (about 61m), and she and the East German Christa Spielberg had since traded the record between them. Not only that, but Manoliu entered the competition hampered by a sore elbow, and was not sure how many throws she could imagine.

So she resolved to put everything she had into the first throw – and then to hope for the best. It turned out to be the perfect plan – her first attempt spinning 58.28m, an Olympic record that was good enough to take the lead after the first round.
And then, remarkably, it began to rain. Little matter that Manoliu's subsequent run included three fouls, a pass and a single legal throw that was more than 10m short of her first effort. Her rivals were all hampered by the conditions and could not beat her mark. Westermann took silver, half a metre behind. Spielberg was seventh and Manoliu's 16-year wait was at and end.

She was to compete at the Games once more – finishing ninth in Munich in 1972 and so becoming the first female track and field athlete to compete at six Games. After that, Manoliu retired – but she was later to return to the Olympic arena as President of the Romanian Olympic Committee.

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