Graphing Athletics: The story of the shot put – evidence of a doped fuelled era?

Datasheets in the shot put have now been produced and have highlighted some interesting trends in both the men’s and women’s event. Check out the shot put datasheets here:



The shot put is one of the simplest athletic field events, dominated by the impulse that an athlete can produce. The aim of the shot put it to “put” (throw) a shot (spherical metal mass) the greatest distance over a number of rounds in a competition. It is interesting to see that in the shot put event a single dominant putting technique has never emerged, unlike within other field events, for example the high jump, javelin and pole vault. Shot put athletes favour either the “glide” or the “spin” actions. In theory this means that putting technique is not a dominant factor on performance, and that instead performance is determined mainly by other factors, for example the physiology of athletes.

Dominant nations

As with the other events examined so far in this blog series, European countries and the USA dominated the early years of the shot put. Unsurprisingly the USA has maintained its dominance in the event throughout modern competition. We can also see a rise and subsequent fall in shot put dominance of the Soviet Union and East Germany between the 1940s and 1990s.

A similar pattern can be seen within the women’s event, with Germany being a leading nation in the early years of the event, making way for the Soviet Union in the middle of the 20th century, before fading towards the end of the century. In recent years other European nations have come to dominate the event, including Belarus, Poland, Russia and Bulgaria. China also come in to play in the 1950s and still is a dominant shot putting force today.

Dominant Individuals

As with the javelin, it is possible for shot put athletes to stay at the top of their sport for long periods of time. For example some athletes have remained in the top 3 in the world for 16 or 17 years.

Dennis Horgan was an Irish athlete who won silver at the London 1908 Olympics. He was ranked in the top 3 worldwide for 17 years in the early period of the shot put. Udo Beyer from East Germany, also remained in the top 3 for 17 years throughout the 1970s and 1980s. [He recently admitted to taking part in the state supported doping program throughout the 1970s.] As of summer 2016, the current world record of 23.12 m set by Randy Barnes is yet to be beaten 26 years on. Surprisingly Randy did not appear in the top 3 ranking for very long, with only a very few appearances in the early late 1980s and early 1990s. A key factor in this is that Randy was his ban for competing for 27 months in 1990 and then later for life in 1998 due to drugs offences. Apparently Randy now competes in golf longest drive competitions.

In the women’s shot put event, Tatyana Sevryukova was ranked within the top 3 for 14 years, but only won one European gold medal. Unfortunately for Tatyana she was competing in the late 1930s and early 1940s, where two Olympic Games were cancelled. In 1948 she competed in an alternative Soviet games where she bettered the official Olympic Games winner. Helena Fibingerová, a Czech shot putter, was another prolific athlete who ranked within the top 3 for 12 years. Again Helena had limited Olympic success with only a bronze medal to her name as she only appeared to compete in two Olympic Games.

Performance History

Shot put performance has peaked in the late 1980s/early 1990s, with the world record in the men’s event at 23.12 m and 22.63 m in the women’s event. This is similar to other throwing events and goes against the natural evolution of sport whereby performances should see a general increasing trend with diminishing improvement. It is therefore likely that shot put performances have been artificially raised for a period of time up until the early 1990s. The evidence suggests that performance enhancing drugs have been used to do this. With the introduction of tighter out of season random drug testing in 1989, performance in the shot put in both men and women’s events have dropped.

There is also a growing pool of evidence which shows state supported doping in Soviet Union countries including admissions of guilt from various athletes who performed in this period. On top of this, it appears that women’s performance has been influenced to a greater extent than the men’s event. A potential reason for this is that anabolic steroids have a greater effect on female physiology which is believed to give a greater performance gain for female athletes, particularly in power dominated events like the shot put . For a more detailed examination of this subject check out our paper which was released on this subject can be found here.

The outcome of this doped fuelled era could mean that the world record in both the men’s and women’s shot put may never be beaten.

Below is a table of game changing event which took place in the world of drug testing over the second half of the 20th century. With the introduction of out of season drug testing in 1989 and fall of the Soviet Union, performance has declined in the shot put event. This could mean that current performances are less influenced by performance enhancing drugs and we are now in a cleaner era. However, the true picture behind the shot put and similar power dominated events may never be known as policing drug cheats is an on-going battle, especially in light of recent allegations of state supported doping taking place in Russia to this day.

Year Event
1968 First doping control and testing at the Mexico Olympics
1972 First Full-Scale Drug Testing of Olympic Athletes for Narcotics and Stimulants
1975 Anabolic Steroids Added to IOC’s banned substances list
1976 Steroid Testing Conducted for the First Time at the Montreal Olympics
1989 Tighter controls on drug testing, random compulsory drug testing introduced
1999 World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA formed
2009 Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) operating guidelines introduced – hematological biomarkers used
2014 Steroidal Module added to the ABP


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3 Responses

  1. Edward Winter

    Shot put is a projectile-type activity so, from Newton’s second law, isn’t it the impulse a performer generates that is decisive? Power is a separate mechanical construct and besides, is not the principal construct that applies. Techniques are designed to optimise the force history and so maximise the applied impulse. Usually, techniques are designed to prolong the duration over which force is applied.

    1. Edward Winter

      Well, power is not the correct construct. Remember, in mechanics the term has a strict definition: the rate at which mechanical work is done. So, which “power” i.e. the power of what? then follows. Performance in projectile activities is determined by the velocity of the projectile at release. Because velocity is a vector quantity, it implies both magnitude and direction. From Newton II – the impulse-momentum relationship, velocity is determined precisely by the preceding impulse. The r value is exactly one. It is the characteristics of impulse generation that are central. “Power” is at best a distraction and in most cases, an infatuation. Even for internal-combustion engines, power and torque are secondary measures. They are secondary to the impulse each burning fuel-air mixture applies to its respective piston. Each impulse produces rotary motion via the engine’s crankshaft. The impulses are smoothed by multi-cylinder designs and the flywheel – although in high-revving race engines, there isn’t a flywheel as such; just an area to which the clutch that connects the engine to the transmission is attached. Walking, running, rowing and cycling are examples of “polymerised” impulses but of course, of much lower frequency than those encountered in internal-combustion engines. Power” is an emotive term but unfortunately, the emotion becomes passion which then clouds judgement.

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