Meg Ritchie is warming to her theme. She's speaking from her remote home at the top of Roan Mountain in the part of the Appalachians that sit in Tennessee. She's talking about the deer that run past her living room window each morning; then there's the possums and the raccoons.

What about bears?

“Oh, yes,” she says, drawing out the first part of the sentence just to underline how prevalent they are. “It's like Wild Kingdom [an American tv show] up here. Just over the ridge, there's a park and it's got a sign that says 'caution, entering bear country'.”

At one time during the 1980s, Ritchie was something of a bear herself. She weighed 20st at the height of her career as a two-time Olympian in the discus, she was fiercely intelligent, too, and tenacious in her pursuit of excellence – all three help to explain what took her from Kirkcaldy to the United States in the late 70s.

“It's a long and winding tale,” she says of her decision to leave a teaching job in Scotland for the University of Arizona. Ritchie had broken British records in discus and shot but admits she wasn't fully committed to her sport.

“I remember way back in the dark ages of 1979, having a bit of an epiphany and thinking 'if I'm going to throw far, I'm not going to be able to do it [when I'm] teaching school, running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I had to ask myself 'do I really want to throw far, is that something I'm really interested in doing?'”

“Chris Murray, head track and field coach at that time, brought a group of women from Arizona to Meadowbank. I was out the back in that old throwing area that they had there. He introduced himself and he said to me 'would you be interested in a scholarship in the States?' Pure happenstance, a freak meeting.

“When I got over there, my first competition was abominable, it was awful. I went back to my cockroach-ridden apartment in the middle of Tucson in 100 degree weather and thought to myself 'what the hell am I doing here?' Then I went and broke the British record five times between March and April of that year.”

It's 40 years this week since she surpassed that British mark – also the US collegiate record – for the final time at the Mt SAC relays event in Walnut, California, with a throw of 67.48m. It's a record that stands to this day and would have been good enough for Olympic gold at Beijing in 2008 and bronze in London four years later. The closest any British woman has come to bettering it was Shelley Drew in 2003 and she was more than six metres short. Ritchie won Commonwealth Gold at the Brisbane Games in 1982 and was ninth and fifth respectively in the Olympic finals of Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984).

She says she remembers very little detail about the actual throw that took her into the record books but still has a firm recall of what happened afterwards.

“It was so darn easy; when I threw it and looked at the tape, I thought 'I didn't throw that, they must have mis-marked it.' Right after, a very tall gentleman with a big hat, came over to me and he said 'Congratulations, I run a track and field club, are you interested in joining?' It was Wilt Chamberlain [one of the most famous basketball players of all time]. I had to ask somebody, who's he?”

In the end, her commitments with sponsor adidas prevented her from taking the NBA hall of famer up on his offer.

Ritchie, 68, is also in a hall of fame. Two years ago, she was inducted into the Pac-12 hall of honor with 11 others. You might have heard of some of them: Dick Fosbury, the inventor of the Fosbury Flop and Ronnie Lott, the former San Francisco 49er safety, the greatest defensive back in the history of gridiron.

As a budding young thrower in the 80s, she was sitting down to breakfast in New York when her friend's phone rang. It was Al Oerter, the doyen of discus throwing and four-time Olympic gold medallist, asking if she would join him in an impromptu training session at his Long Island home.

There is a reason why Ritchie has rubbed shoulders with so many legendary figures: she is one herself so much so that it's tempting to suggest her British record might stand for another 40 years.

“Once somebody described commitment as jumping into the swimming pool. Before you know it you are completely immersed. You've got Laura Muir, it's easy to be committed in a running event, you get so many accolades and kudos, but a thrower? I see throwers in Scotland – and there are a lot of good kids there – but they're Scottish, they want to stay there and they want to do the best they can and that's fine but really are they doing what they can do to be the best? The bottom line for me was that I loved the feeling of throwing, being as explosive as I could possibly be. I loved that motion. I miss it, I miss it a lot.”

When competing came to an end, Ritchie threw herself into coaching with the same gusto. These days, she teaches strength and conditioning at East Tennessee State University having previously held similar jobs at Texas Tech and her alma mater in Arizona.

She helped play a part in turning former New England Patriots Teddy Bruschi (a three-time Super Bowl winner) and Chris Singleton into NFL ready players; two other proteges Steve Kerr, now head coach of the Golden State Warriors, and Sean Elliott went on to become NBA champions.

“I have always been passionate about the interaction with the athletes. When you are an athlete it is all about you, when you start coaching it is all about them – you've got to change that focus.”