Saturday, October 3, 2020

V 10 N. 70 Steve Smith, first over 18 feet indoors R.I.P.

 Russ Reabold of Trojan Force noted the passing of pole vaulter Steve Smith a few days ago.

Steve Smith

b. November 24, 1951  Long, CA

d. September 23, 2020  San Clemente, CA

The following story appeared in the San Clemente Times August 2,  2012, writer Steve Breazele.

by Steve Breazeale

When San Clemente resident Steve Smith sits down to tell someone of his Olympic past, he starts it with a preface.

“I’m not a warm and fuzzy Olympic story,” said Smith, a longtime San Clemente real estate agent.

In his athletic career, Smith set state records in the pole vault in high school at South Torrance, tore through the collegiate competition while at Long Beach State, earned a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 21, cleared for the first time the then-fabled 18-foot mark indoors and represented the USA in the 1972 Olympics. He was a professional track and field star and is remembered by his outspoken style and massive jumps on big stages.

The ’72 Munich games may be best known by the tragic murder of Israeli team members by terrorists known as Black September. But for Smith, the games were the place where his Olympic dreams started, and ended, in controversy.Due to a last-minute ban on the poles the Americans and vaulters from several other countries were using, Smith was forced to compete on older, heavier poles he was not accustomed to and finished in 18th place.The process in which the International Association of Athletics Federations, the track and field governing body, laid down the ban is as twisted and convoluted as can be.Smith and his fellow pole-vaulting teammates, which included 1968 gold medalist Bob Seagren, had already qualified for the event by way of the Olympic Trials on poles that were slightly lighter than their traditional counterparts. The game was changing, and Smith and vaulters around the world were looking for lighter poles that could still hold their weight.“It’s like the difference in fishing poles. If you’re going to catch a marlin, you’re going to bring a heavy rod…If you’re going to catch a trout, you’re bringing a little, flexible rod,” Smith said. “(What these poles did) was make it like a trout rod and give it the flex and response of a marlin rod.”When the issue was brought to the IAAF’s attention just weeks before the games, the group immediately banned the poles. An appeal was eventually made, claiming that the poles were not carbon fiber and the governing body granted the appeal, reversing its decision. When the Americans showed up for the games there was grumbling out of the East German contingent that the poles used by Smith and Seagren were illegal and made out of carbon fibers.After they had won their appeal, Smith and his teammates thought they were good to go, until another sucker punch arrived the night before Olympic competition. The IAAF had once again reversed its decision, this time claiming that no new equipment could be used that wasn’t available to the general public six months prior to the start of the Olympics. The federations deemed the Americans poles as new equipment.

“They just took the poles at the games for no reason and said, ‘That’s a newer design’… They just took these poles away arbitrarily,” Smith said.

The next day, the pole vault competition got underway.

“We had no backup poles…I had a short-run pole that you use to run half the length of the runway…It’s much, much weaker. So that’s what I ended up having to jump on,” Smith said. “I ran from a 50-foot run-up instead of 130 feet and jumped 15 feet 9 inches…It was a disaster.”

Seagren actually found a replacement pole that was good enough to vault him to a silver medal. After his final jump, Seagren searched out then IAAF President Adrian Paulen, walked up to him, handed him his pole and walked away.

“You work your a– off since you were a little tiny kid…And here’s your dream, like a big golden door going to heaven or something and you open the door and go down a hallway,” Smith said. “But every time you open a door, there was a big, nightmarish monster leaping out the door…then you open another and ‘Here comes another one’…and you’re thinking to yourself, this is impossible, this can’t be happening.”

Smith may not have enjoyed the Olympics, for obvious reasons, but he recalled bright spots, like when he would sneak in the back door of an Olympic Village convenience store after hours to grab soda and candy bars for the shot put team. The combination of caffeine, carbonation and sugar was apparently a secret weapon employed by the American throwers.

Aside from his own predicament in ‘72, there was also the terrorist attack.

“We were all rattled to death. (Our situation) was a miniscule thing compared to the Israelis and the terrorists,” Smith said.

Smith would qualify for another Olympiad in 1980, this time as an alternate. But politics got in the way, and the U.S. team boycotted the entire competition in Moscow.

The let down at the ’72 games acted as a springboard for Smith’s career. He rededicated himself to his sport and put together the best stretch of his career. He was the first man ever to clear the 18-foot indoor mark achieved at Madison Square Garden in 1973, was ranked No. 1 in the world in the pole vault, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, set several world records and won a cross country national championship with Cal State Long Beach.

“The biggest (motivation) was going out and making amends for having the rug yanked out from under me at the Olympics,” Smith said.

It might not be a “warm and fuzzy” Olympic story, but its Steve Smith’s story to tell.

Follow UP

There is some footage of the polevault event on the official Olympic film for Munich 1972 in which you  can see Steve's frustration, throwing his pole.  if you go to the link below and move the timer to ( 23 minutes)       of the film you, will see some excellent footage, although the film director choses not to have any dialogue.   (Thanks to Geoff Williams for telling me about this film and where to find it.)

This film was made by 8 famous film directors covering different aspects of the games. It is not for one who is a stickler for detail and statistics.  There is not much commentary, and when there is, it is not from the pages of the sports section of your local newspaper.   All the of offical olympics films are available at this site,

For Munich you will need to go to the 23 minute mark to see the polevaulting section.  Remember, this is not your typical training loop film, it is from the artsy, fartsy world.  George Brose 

Munich 1972 Olympic Film Visions of Eight

This just was added by Joe Rogers,  former Ball State head  and West Point asst coach.



This article is great.   I wanted to relate a couple of things about the story.   George Moore who invented the Browning Arms SKY POLE in the mid-60s was the developer of the Carbon Fiber poles


George was an engineer working for the Browning Arms Company when he developed the Sky Pole for them.   When he has some good idea’s about improving the vaulting poles, Browning did not want to

Do it because they were satisfied with the Sky Pole Business.


Moore left them and started his own company called “CataPole” from Cosa Mesa Nevada.  The Cata Pole took over a lot of the Sky Pole Business due to the fact the George was the vaulters friend.  He was always helpful to all athletes and coaches in understanding the nature of pole selection for the athlete.   The story of the 72 games evolved when his scientific mind came up with the carbon fiber pole which he called the Green CataPole.   He produced a green pole with these caracteristics in early 70’s.  When the controversy came up he offered to supply all the world’s best vaulters with the pole as the 72 games were approaching, but the eastern block countries objected and the Munich games were very influenced by the Communist countries.  If you remember the pole vault was won by Wolfgang Nordwig an East German.


In 1969, I was a young beginning high school coach who had a pretty good HS high jumper, named Gary Cameron.  He had a best of 6’ 6.5” with the straight leg Straddle Roll.  He  jumped against Tony Wilson at the Ohio State Meet.  Tony was Nancy Wilson’s brother. Nancy the noted singer.


Gary got invited to compete at the Golden West in Sacramento in that spring in’69.   It was the greatest High School meet I had ever attended.  Prefontaine won the mile at 4:05, Freddy Richardson in a dead heat won the 2 Mile at 8:55.  It was a great last lap as 2 athlete battled to the finish line.   The 100 yds. Was won at 9.3 with a false start and on dirt.  In the pole vault, Steve Smith was second at 16’ 6 (I beiieve)

as Casey Carrigan won over 17’.


Lots of memories. Sometime I’ll have to tell you the story of Zach Gillan, who won thetriple jump over 50’.  I finally encounterd Zach as a baker in the mess hall at West Point.


Anyway I digress.  Delighted in your article.  Joe Rogers

Right after, this came in from Mike Solomon


Sorry to hear about the passing of Steve Smith.
Last I heard years ago that he was in real estate up in Oregon.
I knew him in high school and he first went to SC.
Later transferred into Long Beach State ( along with his UCLA  pal, Dwight Stones).
They came to Long Beach as I was just leaving to go overseas.
Later met Steve at a meet in Arhaus, Denmark and vividly remember him carrying about ten poles chasing the meet promoter into the parking lot for not giving him the money to appear!
Forwarded the article to my KU team mate, Jan Johnson. In the 72' olympics Jan placed 3rd but can't remember whose pole he had to borrow when the olympic committee banned the yanks from using their poles? Could have  been one of our decathlon athletes?
Mike Solomon

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V 10 N. 72 Remembering Charlie Moore Olympic Gold 1952 400IH R.I.P.

Walt Murphy brought this news to our attention on his blog This Day in Track and Field. The notes below are from Olympedia....