The Greatest Shot Putters of All Time

Choosing the greatest shot putters in history is perhaps more than any other event compromised by the use of drugs. Whether under state sponsored regimes in Eastern Europe or individual choices in the West it can’t be denied that many of the leading performances in the latter part of the 20th century in particular were achieved with artificial help.

The question for me is how much account I should take of this when making some of the choices for my Top Tens. Some of these choices will be controversial because we know almost certainly that the performances by GDR athletes were made using drugs. However, those performances still stand in the record books and it would be naive to suppose that most of their main rivals in other countries were entirely clean. So I have kept them in the rankings but am more inclined to favour others if the decision is a close one.

My choice for the greatest shot-putters in order from 1 to 10 are:


Parry O’Brien (USA)-  For me O’Brien is the clear number one. He was the Olympic champion in 1952 and 1956 and won silver in 1960. He was the world’s leading shot-putter for seven years and broke the world record seventeen times. He won 116 consecutive competitions and revolutionised the event using a new technique.

Randy Matson (USA) – the Olympic champion of 1968 and a dominant competitor in that erea.  In 1965 he broke the world record three times adding two feet to the old mark in the course of the year.  He broke the record again in 1967 and held it until 1973.  Five times world leader for the year.

Ralph Rose (USA) – winner of the Olympic titles in 1904 and 1908 and 2nd in 1912 where he won the two-handed shot gold.  He set the inaugural official world record in 1909 and this record wasn’t broken until 1928.

Udo Beyer (GDR) – the best putter in the world for six years.  He was the Olympic champion in 1976 and set three world records between 1978 and 1986.  He won two European championships and three World Cup titles.

Dallas Long (USA) – the 1964 Olympic champion and 1960 bronze medallist. He broke the world record four times between 1959 and 1962.

John Godina (USA) – three times world champion between 1995 and 2001.  He also won  the world indoor title in 2001.  He won two Olympic shot medals and had the world leading performance three times.

Adam Nelson (USA) – the Olympic Champion of 2004 and world champion in 2005.  He also won three more world silvers and an Olympic silver.  Three times world leader for the year.

Ulf Timmermann (GDR) – the man with more 22 metre puts than anyone in history and twice holder of the world record including the first 23 metre put.  He was the 1988 Olympic Champion and won two World Indoor, two World Cups and a European title.

Jim Fuchs (USA) -winner of 88 consecutive competitions in 1949 and 1950 when he also set four world records. He only won two bronzes at Olympics but took two Pan-Am Games golds.

Jack Torrance (USA) – in the mid 1930s produced some outstanding performances culminating in 1934 when he broke the world record four times with his best mark remaining the world record until 1948.  He was the world leader for four years but disappointed in the 1936 Olympics.



Valerie Adams (New Zealand) – completely dominant in the event for most of the last decade.  Four times the world outdoor champion, three times Commonwealth champion, twice world indoor champion and twice Olympic champion.  It could be said that the opposition hasn’t been great but this is partly because anyone able to beat her recently has later failed a drugs test and been removed from the equation.  She has now been the number one shot putter in the world for eight years.

Nadezhda Chizova (USSR) – the world’s leading putter seven times.  She set seven world records and won the Olympic title in 1972 with one.  Between 1966 and 1974 she won four European Championships, the first woman in any event to do so.  She also won five European Indoor titles at a time when European athletes were the world’s best.

Tamara Press (USSR) – the 1960 and 1964 Olympic champion.  Also European champion in 1962 and set six world records between 1959 and 1965 before suddenly ending her career in 1966 as sex testing was introduced, leading to speculation.

Astrid Kumbernuss (GDR/Germany) – the best German putter of the post-GDR era.  She was three times world champion and the 1996 Olympic champion.  Also won a European outdoor and two indoor golds.

Tatyana Sevryakina (USSR) – the outstanding putter of the 1940s.  She was denied the channce to compete in many championships due to the War and the Soviet Union not entering the 1948 Olympics.  She was the longest putter in the world seven times and three times exceeded the world record but two were not recognised as such because the USSR wasn’t in the IAAF.  She won the 1946 European title by a huge margin.

Galina Zybina (USSR) – set eight world records between 1952 and 1956.  Winner of the 1952 Olympic and 1954 European shot titles.

Ilona Briesenick (GDR) – six times the world’s leading thrower of the year although she failed a drugs test in 1977.  She returned to win more titles and was the 1980 Olympic champion and twice European champion.  Set two world records.

Natalya Lisovskaya (USSR) – the current holder of the world record which she set in 1987.  She set two other world records and was 1987 world and 1988 Olympic champion.  Won two world indoor titles.

Gisela Mauermayer (Germany) -better known as a discus thrower but she was also a fine shot putter.  Her finest hour came with a world record in 1934 which remained the official record for 14 years. The same year she won the Women’s World Games title but the event wasn’t in the 1936 Olympics.  She topped the world rankings three times and in 1937 to 1939 won the German championships beating the world leader.

Huang Zhihong (China) – the first great Chinese putter who was world champion in and second in 1995.  She won Olympic silver and was world number one three times.


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