SI Vault
Pete Axthelm
February 05, 1968
The action indoors was spread over five meets in three days and from one coast to the other. Some mighty strange things happened, but not to handsome Bob Seagren, who broke his own world record
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 05, 1968

Track Has A High Old Weekend

The action indoors was spread over five meets in three days and from one coast to the other. Some mighty strange things happened, but not to handsome Bob Seagren, who broke his own world record

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Bob Seagren stood on the pole-vault runway, flashing his handsome smile at the cameras and saying nice things to the people who congratulated him. He had just set a world indoor record of 17'4�", and his voice could hardly be heard over the cheers of the 14,088 spectators in Madison Square Garden. "These people seem so near to you here," he said, "but I like it. In fact, I'd rather vault indoors than out. I think the noise, the tension and the whole atmosphere make indoor track more fun."

Last weekend 44,546 people in five cities enjoyed the unique atmosphere of indoor track. Seagren's performance at New York's Millrose Games highlighted the season's busiest track period, but the track enthusiasts in Oakland, Boston, Portland and Albuquerque also got plenty of action. There were few important records set, but competition was good and, as usual, indoor track was a colorful, bizarre spectacle.

In Boston, a relay start was delayed while carpenters were summoned to repair a cracked plank on the rickety old board track. In New York, Dave Patrick lost a bitterly fought mile to Preston Davis, went to the dressing room and changed into street clothes—and then was barred by special cops from returning to the crowded floor to watch the rest of the meet. In Albuquerque, the 60-yard hurdles were held up until late in the evening because the star. Earl McCullouch, was delayed on his flight from Oakland. The Pearl, undefeated this season, rushed in just in time—and then caught a spike on a hurdle and wound up flat on his face. In Oakland, Tom Laris was beaten up by four kids while training outdoors for the three-mile race, and in the race itself Van Nelson was hit and knocked offstride by a falling vaulting pole. Nelson dropped from first place back to fifth but recovered to salvage second, and went home with one of the most unusual alibis in the history of losers.

Among the few normal occurrences of the strange weekend was the double victory of Seagren in New York on Thursday and in Boston on Saturday. Thursday in the Millrose Games he made his 11th 17-foot indoor vault, giving him an 11-0 edge over the rest of the world. Saturday night in Portland the gap was narrowed when Altti Alarotu, a Brigham Young University freshman from Finland, became the second man to clear 17 feet indoors. But, in Boston, Seagren casually brought his own total to a dozen.

Seagren operates with almost mechanical precision. He shocked a few people by carelessly missing his first try at 16 feet in the Millrose Games, but then quietly and undramatically took care of things. He made 16' and 16'8" with plenty to spare, while the last of his rivals were being eliminated. The bar was raised to 17' and the crowd tensed. New Yorkers had never seen a 17-foot vault, and Seagren had obligingly promised them one. He did all the mysterious measuring and studying that pole vaulters do, and then walked back to the end of the runway. Hardly pausing for effect, he took off, his face twisted into a grimace, and shot upward. He made it with almost disdainful ease.

With the bar raised to an indoor-world-record 17'4�" he missed twice, but on his third and last try he cleared the bar and dropped on his back into the pit with his arms raised in triumph.

"Damn, another world record!" yelled Vern Wolfe, Seagren's coach at Southern California. "Hey, Bob, what are you going to do for an encore?"

"The rafters, coach, the rafters."

Seagren ordered the bar raised to 17'8", a quarter of an inch above the pending outdoor record held by his teammate, Paul Wilson. He also switched poles, a fairly bold experiment to make in the middle of a meet after setting a record. "I just can't get my hands high enough on a 16-foot pole to feel comfortable at 17'8" or higher," he said, reaching into a cardboard cylinder to produce a 17-foot black and white weapon called a Cata-Pole. "It would be incredible if he made 17'8" with that big pole," said veteran vaulter Mel Hein. "Every pole is different. You always need time to get used to one."

Hein was right. Seagren did not come very close at 17'8" and in fact went back to the 16-foot pole for his final try. "I'll put the new pole away until I have a chance to work with it," he said. "As we go higher, we're going to have to use it."

Continue Story
1 2