I just got off the phone with Ernie Cunliffe and he suggested I contact you. Yesterday I placed a call to George Mattos, and sadly found out he died in October 2012 of prostate cancer. There is a good article about George's passing and life on Google. I talked to George's wife Lorraine, and we had a wonderful conversation about the life of this great guy. For the record, in the "steel pole era" Mattos is credited with the greatest clearance over pole grip height, 3 feet 1 inch plus. He really got vertical! I consider him the greatest "clutch" vaulter I competed against---his best two vaults come in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic trials and he made both teams.
I went on to do some checking and found the article Bill mentions It was printed at the time of his passing in George's hometown paper, The Santa Cruz Sentinel. Though George had moved away from there a long time ago, they certainly had not forgotten him. Strangely about the only thing my memory retained of the pole vault in Melbourne in 1956 was some news film of the Greek pole vaulter George Roubanis who took the bronze medal from George Mattos while he (Roubanis) used a fiberglass pole. As mentioned below this was the first medal won on fiberglass. I'm not very knowledgeable in matters of the pole vault, but I lived with several good jumpers in the early 60's when fiberglass was coming in big time. I've also recently spoken to Coach John Mitchell who had the first high school sixteen footer Paul Wilson. We'll be discussing that conversation in a future post on this blog.
Of note, George Mattos won the California State high school meet on bamboo, then switched to steel. In winning the state meet he defeated the future actor Robert Culp who co-starred with Bill Cosby in the series "I Spy". I've found a sequence of stills from that TV series in which Culp uses his knowledge of the pole vault to play a scene.
Of interest too is that George Mattos made a career as a jazz musician, and even declared that he had no interest in the sport or at least teaching vaulting as music filled his life. Marty Liquori is also a jazz musician. Several other actors have had major track and field backgrounds. Bruce Dern was a serious runner in the 60's, and Dennis Weaver who played Chester in "Gunsmoke" and "McCloud" was an excellent decathlete, and we should not forget Rafer Johnson did a bit of acting after his track career. Don Bragg the 1960 pole vault champion at Rome had dreams of playing Tarzan, but he was never able to parlay his pole vault gold medal into a movie career. If you can think of some others, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org In looking up information on George Mattos, I came across a grade school picture of Cornelius Warmerdam which I'm including at the end of this posting along with a brief bio written by the alums of his school.
But above all this posting is meant to honor George Mattos.
Santa Cruz-born Olympic pole vaulter George Mattos dies at 83
He lived in southern Oregon for the past 20 years, and had attended every U.S. Olympic track and field trials since 1992 until last summer.
"I didn't feel well enough this time," he recently told the Mail Tribune of Medford, Ore.
But Mattos watched the London Games at home. "I know the feeling you get deep inside, that unbelievable joy," he told the newspaper. "There is just nothing like it."
Born in Santa Cruz in 1929, Mattos grew up in Campbell where his grandparents owned a fruit ranch. He moved with his family to the Monterey Peninsula when he was 12. Mattos graduated from Pacific Grove High, where in 1947 he won the state championship in the vault using a bamboo pole. He out-leaped Berkeley's Robert Culp, who later became a well-known actor.
Mattos recalled how working on the family ranch gave his 5-foot-10-inch frame the upper-body strength to vault. Part of his chores included lifting boxes of apricots and prunes "doing weightlifting all those years but I didn't realize it."
The accomplished clarinet and saxophone player majored in music at San Jose State while training under legendary track coach Bud Winter who would go on to tutor famous Speed City runners John Carlos, Lee Evans and Tommie Smith.
Mattos, a member of the Pole Vault Hall of Fame, was overshadowed by American Bob Richards during his era although he was ranked among the world's top 10 vaulters for a decade. Richards won consecutive Olympic gold medals in 1952 and '56 and a bronze medal in 1948. Richards also was the first athlete to appear on the front of a Wheaties cereal box.
Mattos thought he had a chance to earn a medal in 1956 after finishing second at the Olympic trials in Los Angeles. But Greek vaulter Georgios Roubanis edged him for third place in Melbourne.
The bronze medalist used a fiberglass pole that gave Roubanis an advantage over the rest of the vaulters who used steel poles.
"So I lost the bronze medal to the first fiberglass pole ever used in the Olympic Games," Mattos told the Mail Tribune. "It was definitely unfair, but there was no rule against it."
Mattos retired from pole vaulting in 1960 after failing to qualify for the Rome Games. He did clear 15 feet with a steel pole before leaving the sport. Mattos never used a fiberglass pole.
The Olympian stayed active by playing tennis and skiing. He also climbed Mount Shasta five times according to a 1983 story in the Redding Searchlight. Mattos spent several years working weekends for the U.S. National Weather Service.
But his real passion was music. Mattos worked in big bands, jazz combos, Dixieland and concert band throughout his life, including at San Jose State and while serving four years in the Air Force. He was the leader of the Dixie Fat Cats Dixieland Band that played at the Medford Jazz Festival for 10 years.
Mattos started teaching music in 1956 at the elementary and high school in Weed. In 1960 he helped start the music department at newly opened College of the Siskiyous.
"People think sports and music are a weird combination," he once told a reporter. "People say I should be a track coach. I don't have any desire" to coach.
"I didn't want to spend my life in a smelly locker room," Mattos added. "So many people in athletics never mature. Music is more mature. Music has more appeal. It's so alive, so vivacious.
"Music was my life work." You can see George at work here with the Dixie Fat Cats: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpWhz_HJ04k
He is survived by his second wife Lorraine Mattos of Central Point, Ore., his brother Rick Mattos, first wife Ginger Mattos of Mount Shasta; children Diana Gilley of Medford, Rob Mattos of Menlo Park, Dave Mattos of Haiku, Hawaii, Karen Kozak of Phoenix and Linda Mattos of Bellevue, Wash., and four grandchildren.
The George F. Mattos Music Scholarship had been established in his name at College of the Siskiyous, where he worked from 1960 to 1989. Contributions can be sent to the COS Foundation, 800 College Ave., Weed 96094, or by contacting Dawnie Slabaugh at 530-938-5373 or slaubaugh@Siskiyous.edu.
CORNELIUS "DUTCH" WARMERDAM
|Cornelius Warmerdam , middle row extreme right|
Hardwick Grammar School, near Kingston in Fresno Co. CA
Dutch Warmerdam - 1928 Hardwick graduate (see above photo)
Dutch got his start in pole vaulting in his backyard using the limb of a preachtree and landing in a pit of piled up dirt. He grew up in the Hardwick area and graduated from Hardwick Grammar School ca 1928. He was discovered by the local track coach and vaulted for Hanford High School until his graduation in 1932, after which he attended and vaulted for Fresno State University.
Dutch married Juanita Anderson, a 1937 Laton High School graduate, on August 29, 1940, and they were married for 61 years until Dutch's death in Fresno in 2001. Juanita continued to live in Fresno until her death in 2006.
Vaulting throughout his career with a bamboo pole, Warmerdam was the first vaulter to clear 15 feet (4.57 m), accomplishing that feat at UC Berkeley on April 13, 1940. However, that achievement was not ratified for a world record, and his later vault of 4.60 m on June 29, 1940 was the first ratified jump over 15 feet. During his career, Warmerdam vaulted 15 feet 43 times in competition, while no other vaulter cleared the mark a single time. Warmerdam surpassed the pole vault record seven times in a four year span, and three of those marks were ratified as world records. His highest outdoor vault was 15' 7-3/4" (4.77 m), achieved at the Modesto Relays in 1942, a record which stood until 1957 when Bob Gutowski broke the mark using a metal pole. Warmerdam won the James E. Sullivan Award in 1942 but was never able to compete in the Olympics because the 1940 and 1944 games were cancelled due to World War II, and by 1948 he was coaching professionally and therefore ineligible. However he continued competing as an early practitioner of Master athletics. He still is ranked in the world all time top ten list in the M60 Decathlon.