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Lillian Copeland wins Olympic gold

August 2, 1932

On August 2, 1932, Lillian Copeland set new world and Olympic records in discus, with a throw of 133 feet, 1 5/8 inches, winning a gold medal. It was not the first time Copeland had set new records; as one of the earliest female athletes to excel in track and field events, she had established a name for herself at several earlier competitions.

Born in New York City in 1904, Copeland moved with her mother and stepfather to Los Angeles, where she attended high school. A consummate athlete, she held National Amateur Athletic Union titles in shot put, discus, and javelin by 1926. While a student at the University of Southern California, she won every women's track event that she entered. By the 1928 U.S. Olympic trials, Copeland was a four-time national champion in the shot put. However, shot put was not yet an Olympic event, so she entered the trials in discus, and set a new world record. She was also a member of the world-record-setting 400-meter-relay team at the trials. At the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, the first at which women were allowed to compete in track and field events, Copeland won a silver medal in discus.

Returning to college after the Olympics, Copeland earned a B.A. in political science in 1930, and then entered the U.S.C. Law School. In 1931, she won two more national championships, in shot put and in javelin. At the 1932 Olympics, where shot put was still not among the events, Copeland won her gold medal in discus. It was a crowning achievement for the woman who between 1925 and 1932 had set six world records each in shot put, discus, and javelin.

Though she won the discus, shot put, and javelin titles at the 1935 World Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, Copeland did not compete in the 1936 Olympics. Like many others, Copeland boycotted that year's Games, held in Berlin, to protest Nazi Germany's exclusion of Jewish athletes from German Olympic teams. She never competed again. In 1936, Copeland joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, where she worked until her retirement in 1960. She spent sixteen of those years in the Juvenile Bureau, and the rest at other assignments. Copeland died on July 7, 1964. She was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1994.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 288-290; www.jewsinsports.org; www.jewishsports.net/BioPages/LillianCopeland.htm; New York Times, July 8, 1964; Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1964.

Copeland, Lillian - still image [media]
Full image

This photo was taken during the 1930s, the decade in which all-round athlete Lillian Copeland both won an Olympic gold medal—in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics—and was one of the many athletes to boycott the Olympic Games that were held in Berlin in 1936.

Institution: United States Library of Congress

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Lillian Copeland wins Olympic gold." (Viewed on July 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/02/1932/lillian-copeland>.

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