Personally, I don't think any special natural gift is necessary to sail over the bar at seven feet or higher. It has been hard work, persevering effort, that has chiefly helped me to attain world class standards. I use the belly-roll or straddle. My present coach, Vladimir Dyachkov, is one of the world's experts in the style.
Some people have asked me whether I've had any ballet training. "You're so light in going over the bar," they say. Well, I've never taken up ballet, although I like to dance and I am a ballet fan and try to see as many Bolshoi performances as possible. As for my lightness in the air, that's due to constant polishing of jumping technique.
I can't say exactly how many times a year I practice, but, in any case, I try not to make any big gap in training, whatever the season of the year. I believe that I have yet to achieve the summit of jumping technique myself, and Dyachkov shares this view. I remember how Dyachkov cut the load in my first workouts with him in 1960. I felt less tired than before, but my clearances continued to climb higher just the same. We paid special attention to the run-up. "Don't concentrate only on the moment of going over the bar," Dyachkov told me. "The foundation for your jump should rest on the ground."
Dyachkov doesn't keep to any set pattern, but varies practice. My workouts differ in content, length of time and tension. A half-hour practice today is followed by a two-and-a-half-hour session tomorrow. One workout is devoted to everything but jumping. I keep away from the jump pit altogether, and, instead, sweat it out with a barbell, raising, squatting and hopping with it, gradually increasing the weight. The next practice is completely taken up with jumping. After limbering up, I clear the bar, say, at 6 feet 4�. Dyachkov is on the sidelines, noting everything on his pad. He calls me over and we go into a huddle. He advises me to measure the run-up distance again. I resume jumping, clearing 6 feet 6�, 6 feet 8�, 6 feet 9�, 6 feet 11 and 7 feet. After each jump I listen to Dyachkov's remarks. I usually don't make any ceiling efforts in practice. My faults are reviewed at the end of the session. Dyachkov will tell me I am planting my takeoff foot too soon, or he will point out that the top of my jump is coming before it should, too far back of the bar before my belly button is over the center.
It really is necessary to practice in other sports in order to show stable results in the high jump. I sprint the 100 meters in 10.7 [equivalent to a 9.8 hundred], put the shot 49 feet and throw the discus 147 feet. My best broad jump was 23 feet 1�. The barbell and I are particular friends. Weight lifting develops practically the same muscles which send a jumper up. Jumpers, like weight lifters, must be able to concentrate their utmost strength in one quick effort.
Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, who holds the world record in the broad jump, and I traveled to the Carpathian Mountains for our vacation last summer. We pledged not to do any jumping or weight lifting, but really have a rest. Igor's wife, Rita, who came along with us, is a first-class tennis player. We agreed that she would teach us to play. But we soon became bored. With a guilty smile, Igor proposed that we hunt around for a barbell. I laughed and agreed.
Using substantially the same methods as mine, other Soviet jumpers have been quite successful. Yuri Stepanov, who broke the charm over the long-standing national record—6 feet 10�—also bettered the world record with a jump of 7 feet 1. Shavlakadze, of course, was the 1960 Olympic champion. He now has a weak knee and is incapable of jumping as he once did. I am also grateful to my constant rivals at home, Victor Bolshov and Vasily Khoroshilov, who offered me stiff opposition in the summer of 1960. I regard Bolshov as my main Soviet challenger.
One of my finest performances came after I had, in a sense, broken training. That was at Palo Alto, during the Soviet-U.S. meet last year. It was hot, and despite strict orders from our national coach, Gabriel Korobkov, I sneaked off to the swimming pool. I felt a bit stiff and unsure of myself making my first jumps. Measuring the run-up distance again, I realized it was half a foot longer than usual. I made a new mark and my jumps improved at once. The crowd cheered me, and eventually the judges raised the bar to 7 feet 5. I felt everything was going all right as I sailed up and over. True, I touched the bar and it quivered, but it did not fall. This was a marvelous moment for me.
I surprised myself and almost everybody else when I broke the world record again on September 29 at my school championships at Lenin Stadium in Moscow. I had been at the Tretyakov Art Gallery in the morning and had attended lectures at the Moscow Physical Culture Institute in the early afternoon. The stands were crowded with football fans, who had come to watch a league game and stayed on for the track and field program. The weather was good, and my initial clearances built up my confidence. I decided to have a try at 7 feet 5�. After measuring the run-up distance carefully, I repeated in my mind all the elements of the jump. I repeated them exactly in reality. Landing in the pit, I looked up, wondering whether I had dislodged the bar. It stayed up!
What about this year? I have read in several papers that I have promised to beat 7 feet 6� this year. I assure you that I never made such a statement. I did say that 7 feet 6� can be beaten, and that I'd most probably make an effort to do this. But whether I succeed is something altogether different. Adding even an eighth of an inch is really very tough business.