On Saturday, June 22, 1963, I competed in the pole vault event at the Golden West Invitational in Los Angeles. It turned out to be my lucky day. I set a national high school record in winning the event. This is the story of how that came to pass.
When I began pole vaulting in the seventh grade in 1958, I fell in love with the event immediately. Besides vaulting at every opportunity I also learned everything I could about the event. I soon found out that the national high school record stood at 15’ by Jim Brewer. Irrationally, as I had yet to clear a bar in the vault, I very seriously set for myself the goal of breaking that record. (The lowest height on the standards at school was 4’2”, which I was as yet unable to clear.)
Jim Brewer was a legend in the vault – at that time he was the greatest vaulting prodigy in history. In 1955 as a sophomore he had become the first high school vaulter to make fourteen feet, clearing 14’2”. As a junior he was injured but still managed to up his record to 14’3”. As a senior his 15’ clearance ranked him as one of the best vaulters in the world. At that time no other high school vaulter had ever cleared 14’. Brewer was a vaulting god to me.
I was not a “natural athlete” and worked very hard at vaulting. It was a total obsession with me. But until my junior year in high school, when I finally got some growth and had a major breakthrough, my prospects for achieving my goal did not look good. As a junior, in 1962, I made 13’9” and ranked nationally in Track & Field News. I was the highest non-senior and looked forward to a big year in 1963.
My senior-year season started out well. In the first meet I made 14’7” for a big PR and the national lead. My attempts at 15’ weren’t good that day, but I was very encouraged. When interviewed by a newspaper reporter after the meet, I made public my intention to break the national high school record that season. However, I soon ran into pole problems. The fiberglass pole was still very new and the poles were crude by today’s standards. I was using the lightest pole available, a 140 pound test, but it was really too light for me. But I was unable to make the transition to the next level of stiffness, the 150 pound test. The 150 was MUCH stiffer than the 140 and I couldn’t bend it. I had several near-disasters trying to use the 150, so I had to continue on the 140. There was nothing available in between.
(continued in part 2)