As with so many aspects of life, sometimes it just pays big dividends to be in the right place at the right time. Same with our favorite sport: be at the right meet at the time when all the stars line up for an athlete and you end up being lucky enough to witness history being made right in front of you.
So it was for me at the 1971 U.S.-USSR-World All-Stars triangular meet at the University of California’s Edwards Stadium in Berkeley. The international was held on the July 2-3 weekend and was the culmination of three major meets on the west coast: the NCAA in Seattle, the AAU national championships in Eugene and then the tri in Berkeley.
I was lucky enough to attend the college nationals on my home track at the University of Washington, but then passed on the AAU (so missed the emergence of 100 winner Dr. Delano Meriwether, a 13-flat 110 hurdles WR by Rod Milburn and John Smith’s 44.5 WR at 440, still the fastest quarter-mile ever run).
And Berkeley would cap the trio of high-level meets. For the editorial staff of Track & Field News, the international would also finish up our I July edition (we published two editions per month back then, titled issues I and II). That magazine would be crammed full of nationals news, of course, and the closing deadline was just a few days after the international.
But with Berkeley being less than hour away from T&FN’s home base in Los Altos, California, the entire staff of the magazine could attend the goings-on. And write event reports, too.
Among my events (only men back then) to cover besides the 400, 400 hurdles and shot, was the javelin on the meet’s first day. Publisher Ed Fox’s events included the high jump on the second day. But for reasons now lost to a fading memory, Ed asked me if I wanted to trade events, me taking the high jump on the Saturday while he took the javelin on the Friday. I said sure.
The USA’s HJ entrants were two young jumpers, Cal Poly/SLO’s Reynaldo Brown—who had finished 5th at the ’68 Mexico Olympics as a high schooler and had just won both the NCAA and AAU titles leading into Berkeley—and Wisconsin’s Pat Matzdorf, 5th in the NCAA but runner-up (jumper-up!) in the AAU. Leading the USSR was Mexico bronze winner Valentin Gavrilov; top All-Star leaper was Aussie Lawrie Peckham, 8th in Mexico.
Matzdorf and Brown left their foes behind when they topped 7’3” (2.21) on their first tries. It was a one-inch PR clearance by the 21-year-old Matzdorf. All the jumpers were straddlers, the flop style of surprise Mexico Games champion Dick Fosbury not having taken over the event yet (that would come later in the 1970s).
Matzdorf’s approach came from the left side of the pit, as you faced the landing area. My seat was on the homestretch side of Edwards Stadium and nearly even with the HJ pit. So I had a wonderful view of Matzdorf’s approach and jumping in general.
After their makes at 7-3, the jumpers had the bar raised to the American Record setting of 7’4½” (2.25), a quarter-inch above Fosbury’s Mexico height. Both Brown and Matzdorf missed their first tries, each just barely. Brown hardly was out of the pit and the bar replaced and remeasured before Matzdorf charged in for his second effort, lifting his bent right lead leg and curling over. The stadium erupted. Brown couldn’t make it on either of his remaining attempts, the bar on his third being brought off just barely by his trailing ankle.
Then the crosspiece was raised to the audacious setting of what was first announced as 7’6” (2.29). But a remeasure put the height at 7’6¼”. The jam-packed and sun-drenched Edwards crowd of more than 22,000 was enthralled as Matzdorf had a good try on his first attempt, but a miss nonetheless.
He took his second shot almost immediately and was, as I described it in T&FN, “pulsatingly close.” He said later, “I lay there in the pit for a second, thinking, ‘Jeez, I had the height.’ Then it frightened me that I had come that close.”
He went back to his mark for his final attempt, turned to face the pit—encircled by a battery of still and motion-picture photographers—and “I just thought about getting up my speed a little and gathering all the pop I could.”
Then at 2:25pm, the native of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, rushed at the bar, curled around it—and even with just a slight brush—over and into the pit. Pat Matzdorf suddenly was the World Record holder.
The capacity crowd exploded as Matzdorf lay in the pit, hands to his head. “I didn’t know what to think,” he admitted. Officials ringed the pit to prevent a accidental dislodging of the bar and then did the usual verification measurement. Matzdorf then took one shot at the then-unprecedented setting of 7’7¼” (2.315) before calling it a day.
Pat Matzdorf, The Jump and MW 200
Matzdorf never jumped higher than he did that July day in Berkeley. He actually switched to the flop style in the mid-’70s and got up to, I believe, around 7’5” (2.26).
Of course, I had plenty to write about thanks to Pat, both in my news report of the event and in a feature story to accompany the meet coverage. When you are lucky enough to get a World Record to write about, you don’t mind the work at all.
|Jeff Kroot's photo of the jump|
Like for the high jump, my most memorable pole vault came totally out of the blue. And the height was low by today’s stratospheric standards. But the mark was my first World Record to witness, so how could it be anything for me except my most vivid memory?
It came at the Oregon Invitational indoor meet in Portland on January 26, 1963. I was a junior in high school and my dad Bob, then an assistant coach at Washington, plus our friend Al Leong, an engineering student from Hong Kong and a huge track fan, had driven to Portland from Seattle for the evening meet. We knew it would be a long day and night getting to the meet and back, but we all were excited to see the many top national- and world-level stars who would compete in the Memorial Colesium that night.
The vault featured two Washington jumpers who I had gotten to know well: senior John Cramer (who didn’t clear a height that night due to injury) and sophomore Brian Sternberg.
Brian hailed from the Shoreline district in the north end of Seattle and began emerging early in ’63 as a shining new talent. He would go on that outdoor season to set three World Records, topped by a best of 16’8” (5.08), before his career was tragically cut short when he suffered a broken neck in a trampoline fall that summer. (That accident still is one of the two saddest developments I have ever experienced in the sport; I may write about them one day but I still get emotional just recalling them briefly now.)
Also jumping that night in Portland was ’60 Olympic silver medalist Ron Morris, an early proponent of the fiberglass pole. But the night ended up belonging to another Rome silver winner, decathlete C. K. Yang from Taiwan. The former UCLA Bruin had waged a memorable duel with his former college teammate and American star Rafer Johnson, the eventual 10-event champion.
Yang—whose given name in Chinese was Yang Chuan-Kwang, which had been amended to C.K. Yang when he came to college in the U.S.—always raked in big decathlon point thanks to his vaulting skills, even if he often had to jump off dirt runways and using an aluminum pole.
In Portland, Yang needed all three tries to clear his opening height of 15’0” (4.57), but made his next setting of 15’3"3/4” (4.67) initially. That turned out to be Sternberg’s highest as he placed 3rd. Yang topped 15’8” (4.775—see photo) next and then 15’11” (4.85) on his second attempt, while Morris needed three. (The author and editor struggled with this paragraph as there is no note in the IAAF record books of Yang's 15'8" jump in the progression of the event. But the UPI photo shown below clearly indicates that jump was 15'8". So, did the IAAF miss this or did the UPI stringer working late that night make a typo? We'll never know. ed. )
|C.K. Yang clearing 15' 8" at the Portland meet|
Morris went out at the next height, while Yang then had the bar set at the overall World Record mark of 16’3¼” (4.96). The indoor best was the 16’¾” (4.96) set the winter before by 16-foot pioneer John Uelses, while the outdoor mark stood at 16’2½” (4.94) by Finn Pentii Nikula.
Those marks are now regularly topped by high school boys, plus some of the world’s best women vaulters. But more than 50 years ago, they were big heights for men, who were still getting used to jumping with fiberglass poles. Waiting for the recoil of the implement to hurl them over the bar was still an evolving skill back then.
Yang missed his first two tries at the record height; as I recall he got close on both attempts. Then the arena hushed as he pounded down the raised wooden runway for his final try—and Yang got over. My first World Record!
Up went the bar to the then-stratospheric setting of 5-meters, or 16’5” (now, 5.00 equals 16’4¾” after metric-to-English recalibrations a number of years ago). Yang missed his three tries, but who cared? Everyone had just seen the highest vault anyone had made up to that time.
In my youthful naïveté about the sport back then, I was just certain (quote-unquote) that Yang’s mark was so high that it would last for years. Nice thought, but only a week later, Nikula became the first man to clear 5.00—en route to 5.05 (16’6¾”) and 5.10 (16’8¾”) in the same indoor meet in Finland. And outdoors less than two months later, American John Pennel upped the outdoor record to 16’2¾” (4.95), the first of his nine career WRs.
But those higher jumps never dimmed the luster in my memory of Yang’s record. And my dad and friend Al were just as buzzed as I was on the drive back to Seattle. We didn’t get back until maybe 4:00 in the morning, but we didn’t care. We relived the record vault, plus some exciting races from Portland, all the way home. Literally it was a great ride.
This is easy—’91 World Championships in Tokyo. Defending champion Carl Lewis versus his nemesis of the day, Mike Powell. Inside a jam-packed Olympic Stadium in Japan’s capital and on a newly-poured runway (made of the same polyurethane material as the running track— on which Lewis merely had sped a 100-meter World Record of 9.86 five days before the August 30 LJ final).
I know that I wrote in the first chapter of this missive, on the men’s sprints & hurdles, that I consider Usain Bolt’s 19.19 200 record at the ’09 Berlin Worlds to be the single most outstanding performance I ever witnessed. While that is true, I must say that I consider the Tokyo long jump to be the finest competition I have ever seen.
The always-outgoing Powell told T&FN afterwards, “I didn’t fear Carl anymore. I was capable of the WR. It would take the perfect track, a big meet and my being behind.” Powell got all those ingredients in Tokyo.
Powell jumped seventh in the 13-man field, with U.S. teammate Larry Myricks two jumpers later and Lewis at slot No. 11. Powell opened with a modest 25’9¾” (7.85) as he struggled to find the board. Myricks fouled and then Lewis threw down a mighty gauntlet as he bounded out to 28’5¾” (8.68). Powell responded in round 2 by sailing out to 28’¼” (8.54), while Myricks reached 26’11” (8.20) to give the U.S. all three medal places.
In frame 3, Germany’s Dietmar Haaf moved to 3rd with a wind-aided 26’11¾” (8.22). Powell reached 27’2½” (8.29), while Myricks fouled. Then Lewis popped his longest mark up to then, 28’11¾” (8.83), but with an illegal aiding wind.
Powell wouldn’t knuckle under and in round 4 he flew out well beyond 28-feet, but notched a close foul. The emotional Powell pleaded with the board judge but to no avail. Myricks regained 3rd with a 27’7½” (8.41).
Lewis then electrified the capacity crowd by soaring 29’2¾” (8.91), but with an-over-the-allowable 2.9mps aiding wind. Still, that mark exceeded Bob Beamon’s fabled 29’2½” (8.90) World Record from the ’68 Mexico Olympics.
Then came round 5. Powell sprinted down the runway, hit the board perfectly and stretched his lanky frame out far into the pit. The crowd erupted as he landed and Powell immediately checked for the white flag signaling a legal jump. The wind read merely 0.3mps. Los Angeles Times writer Mike Kennedy, a quiet, generally a soft-spoken man, looked over from his adjacent seat in the media section and said—still quietly—“I do believe he’s got it.”
Everyone waited expectantly for the measure, the delay in announcing Powell’s mark only heightening the expectation in the air. Then the yellow numbers came up on the field scoreboard—8.95 or 29’5½”—and Powell sprinted back down the runway and eventually over to the stands to find coach Randy Huntington. The stadium noise was at a jet-taking-off level.
Myricks hit his best of 27’7½” (8.42) to reclaim the bronze medal for good. Then it was Lewis’s turn. A master at come-from-behind victories, Lewis rallied on his fifth leap to reach 29’1¼” (8.87), which turned out to be his longest of that day—and also of his career.
Powell and Myricks both fouled their sixth efforts and then it was all left for Lewis. Powell lay down under a bench, not quite covering his eyes for Carl’s last shot, but almost. Lewis managed “only” 29’0” (8.84) and Powell had ended his 10-year, 65-meet winning streak.
Powell also halted Beamon’s tenure as WR holder at 22 years, 10 months. Only the immortal Jesse Owens held the record longer at 25 years, 2 months… up until last year, that is. Powell now has held the mark for 25 years, 7 months—and counting.
And the record generated one outcome of humor that I still laugh about a quarter-century later. T&FN’s great friend Peter Diamond, an NBC Olympic executive for years, had anticipated seeing the Powell-Lewis matchup in Tokyo. But New Yorker Peter also was a life-long fan of the Giants baseball team, first in New York and then after the franchise moved west to San Francisco.
The night of the Tokyo LJ final also happened to be when Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants were playing a game. Peter said he was going to the game rather than to the Worlds. We were incredulous, asking him why on earth he would pass up such a monumental battle. He replied, in so many joking words, “They will just try for the win. They won’t go for the record. Besides if they somehow get the record, I’ll just commit harakiri.”
As we all walked back to our hotel after the stunning LJ competition, we wondered what Peter would think when he heard the news. When we reached our hotel, colleague Garry Hill come up with the perfect tweak: he left a note for Peter at the main desk which simply said, “Sir, your sword awaiteth.”
My two most memorable three-bouncers both were World Records. In the later of the pair, Britain’s Jonathan Edwards underscored the dominance he had displayed all of the 1995 season. He had four times jumped beyond the event’s 18-meter barrier (59’¾”) but each with a barely-illegal aiding wind. He did notch a WR 59’0” (17.98) shortly before the Worlds began in Göteborg, Sweden.
Edwards wasted no time in the western Swedish city, flying out to a record 59’7” (18.16) on his opening leap. Not content, he then powered off the board on his second leap, his trajectory rather flat yet undeniably fluid. He completed the hop-step-jump phases and landed well beyond the end of the yellow board at the 18.00 mark. All of 18.29, or 60’¼”—and the event’s 60-foot barrier was history.
It was a reality-defying performance. Later statistical details revealed that Edwards hopped 6.05 (19’8¼”), stepped 5.22 (17’1½”) and finished with an eye-opening leap of 7.02 (23’½”).
but the video conveys Willie Banks' unbridled enthusiasm for the event. ed.)
Banks went into the Indy USA meet sharper than ever. He had set an American Record of 57’11¾” (17.67) only eight days before the nationals. In the June 16 USA final in Indiana, he opened at 57’0” (17.37). Then rival Mike Conley hit 58’1¼” (17.71) on his second jump.
Never one to need inspiration, Banks then readied for his own second effort. Just as he did, the finalists in the women’s 800 field rounded the final curve. Banks’s then-partner and later wife Louise Romo powered into the lead as Banks, who had run to the curbside with about 120-meters left in the race, yelled for her with unrestrained enthusiasm.
Romo took the lead into the final straight as Banks continued to cheer for her. Then he stepped onto the runway and bolted down the strip, hitting the board virtually perfectly before powering through his phases.
As he cut into the sand, those of us watching roared. He knew it was a long one. Friend and super-fan Jed Brickner immediately shrieked, “That’s a World Record! A World Record!”
Jed was spot on: Banks had cut into the sand at 58’11½” (17.97), tantalizingly close to the magic barrier of 18.00 (59’¾”) and far enough to exceed the 58’8½” (17.89) record set nearly 10 years earlier by Brazil’s João de Oliveira at the ’75 Pan-Am Games in Mexico City’s helpful altitude.
Banks gamely took all the rest of his attempts, reaching 57’10½” (17.64) on his third and 57’5½” (17.51) on his fourth before passing his fifth and then fouling on his final try.
It was a stunning performance by Banks—made all the more memorable by Jed’s unbridled enthusiasm after Willie landed. My eternal thanks to them both for an unforgettable experience.
(Next: men’s throws & decathlon.)