Seagren became friends with Pennel at the AAU championships in San Diego in 1965. Before long they were sharing an apartment in Glendale, where Pennel worked for a wine distributor and Seagren went to school. Then they moved into an old house with another USC track man, Mike Flanagan. Seagren did the housecleaning, an activity for which Pennel professed no love. They went to meets together, studied films together and together fought off the cockroaches that infested the house. On the road they had a routine for people who wanted to know what that long pole was they were carrying. "Balancing poles," said Pennel. "We've got a high-wire act. The street will be roped off at 4 o'clock. We're going to make a tight-wire run from that building to this one." "I'm riding the little bicycle," said Seagren, "and John here will be on my shoulders with his pole." They also played together and learned to appreciate the enthusiasm of feminine track fans. "It was the worst training schedule I ever had," says Seagren, "but I actually kept improving. I couldn't believe it."
Pennel, older and wiser, beat Seagren nine straight times before their abilities began to level off. For Seagren it got to be something to anticipate, like giving blood. "Beat John? Are you kidding? I never thought I would. Never thought I would vault 17 feet, either." It all came together in one night in Albuquerque about a year ago; Seagren did 17'�", the first 17-foot vault indoors. Pennel settled for 16'6". "What a night," Seagren wrote in the little notebook he uses to record his statistics. Since Albuquerque he has vaulted against Pennel 18 times in all, Pennel winning 11, Seagren seven.
The three athletes eventually abandoned their house. Pennel was away at the time, so Seagren and Flanagan stacked his things in a corner and left a note reminding him to tend to the cockroaches. Seagren now lives by himself in an efficiency apartment near the campus. The room is decorated with pictures of people proclaiming the Pepsi generation (and a Hamm's beer sign) and scattered around are some of the things a hot-shot amateur athlete can win without corrupting his life—TV sets, typewriters, Polaroid cameras, watches, sports coats, a tape recorder.
Seagren does his own ironing, but he prefers, after a year of his own cooking, to eat out. He has pledged the Kappa Alpha fraternity. KA is strong for athletes. It gives an award, the SMIKA (smoothest man in Kappa Alpha), and has won another, the Volks Tote Award, for carrying a Volkswagen by hand. KA's spiritual leader is Robert E. Lee. Every year there is a public hanging of Ulysses S. Grant's effigy and the fraternity officially secedes from the Union. KA is pleased to have Bob Seagren. Its president says there is a spot reserved on the fraternity Hall of Fame for Seagren's picture. Bob is properly humble. He was genuinely sorry that Coach Wolfe would not let him go through Hell Week, during which KA pledges are allowed to paint, refurbish and repair their place and to suffer the whims of upperclassmen on a diet of grease sandwiches and cold chicken gumbo soup. "The trouble is," said Wolfe, "they don't let you sleep. And that diet!"
The world, Seagren has found, is a pole vaulter's oyster. His way has been paid to meets in Germany, Brazil, Finland, Mexico, Russia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Poland and Norway, and he is always amazed how nice people are. He sits around the apartment building talking about it and about his competition with great vaulters like John Pennel.
"I had the record, now John has it," he said, "and I'll get it back. We both get our turns. It's more interesting that way. John manipulates the pole better. He's like Hansen on the top, that quick turn. Flies way up. He keeps those two hands right there and it gives him more power at the release. You always see me with one hand way up here.
"John's been great to compete with. The only time I felt funny was at Albuquerque when I did 17 feet for the first time indoors. John didn't make it that night. I really thought he would, too. I didn't know what to say except, 'Sorry, John.' He'd always been ahead of me before that."
And then the telephone rang, interrupting his conversation, and what's a fellow to do but answer it?