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You can't keep a good high jumper down
Jerrold Schecter
October 20, 1969
Four years ago world record holder Valeri Brumel of the U.S.S.R. smashed his right leg in a motorcycle accident, but after six operations he is back in training, has already cleared 6'9?" and has higher hopes
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October 20, 1969

You Can't Keep A Good High Jumper Down

Four years ago world record holder Valeri Brumel of the U.S.S.R. smashed his right leg in a motorcycle accident, but after six operations he is back in training, has already cleared 6'9?" and has higher hopes

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On March 3, 1969, after three months of training (20 days of which were lost when he had the grippe), Brumel made his first jumps since the accident. He jumped 19 times beginning at 5'11" and finally clearing 6'6� ". He tried 6'8�" but missed and gave up for the day. Brumel was elated. So was his coach, Yuri Chistyakov. Brumel could still jump, but he was back to the same level he had started at 10 years earlier when he cleared 6'4�" in his first all- U.S.S.R. competition. "The treatment has ended. Now the training begins," said Chistyakov, an old friend with whom Brumel trained and competed in the past. Chistyakov, who is 35, has a wonderful relationship with Brumel, who treats him more like an older brother than a coach. It is the kind of handling that Brumel needs badly. Brumel turned to Chistyakov for personal advice when his marriage deteriorated, and he frequently spends weekends with Chistyakov at the family dacha outside Moscow.

In Sochi last April, Brumel was beginning to step up his training, but progress was still slow. His former coach, Vladimir Dyachkov, was in the stadium with a crop of young hopefuls. He had no time for Brumel anymore. When a visiting correspondent asked Dyachkov, "How are Valeri's chances?" the coach replied, "Which Valeri?" There is clearly a feeling of bitter disappointment between the two. For Dyachkov, Brumel was a remarkable phenomenon, a human being capable of seemingly infinite perfection. Dyachkov, who has studied the relationship between muscle development and performance, had developed an elaborate program for Brumel. Brumel was his creation. He achieved his world record by combining speed with strength. In 1960 he could squat with 320 pounds and that year he cleared 7'2?". In 1962-63 Brumel squatted with 385 pounds and got the world record. Brumel believes that his strength, speed and jumping ability are interdependent. But he is lifting only 330 pounds these days, and it may take him three years to get back to his championship form.

Talking with Brumel in Sochi on his 27th birthday, one got the impression that he was still determined to make a comeback. Yet there was also a new trace of maturity and self-questioning. The young, cocky champion, full of horseplay, had vanished. He contemplated the arduous road back. "The training is going so well it makes me cautious," he said with a smile.

In a suite at the Leningradskaya Hotel, overlooking the Black Sea, Brumel was munching radishes and scallions and sipping white wine, a rare indulgence permitted by Chistyakov for his birthday. Brumel is reticent to discuss specific goals or talk of breaking his own record. Yuri Chistyakov is sympathetic to his plight. He says, "What matters at this stage is not whether he can equal or surpass his previous height. The main thing is psychological therapy so that he feels he is back in the ranks again. After all that he has been through, Valeri must be made to feel that he is capable of being a normal athlete, that he is no longer a cripple." At the right psychological moment, Chistyakov says he will place Brumel in the "iron glove" of training so that he can compete again.

That moment came in Moscow in June. Valeri Brumel competed in a track meet for the first time since his accident. He cleared 6'9?" to take second place in a trade union track meet. The winning height was 6'9?".

Chistyakov feels that to compete regularly, Brumel must be able to jump at least 7'1". He obviously expects that Brumel can regain his old form and perhaps even reach his goal of 7'7�". "It's not your age, it's the time you've been engaged in a sport," says Chistyakov.

At this stage, Brumel is still not certain of his own limits and just how well his leg will respond. He takes off from his left leg, and if he can get his right leg back into shape he might jump to a new height. His former coach, Dyachkov, thinks that Brumel's career is finished and that he can never conquer his flawed leg. But others, like Nikolai Ozolin, 63, Europe's first 14-foot pole vaulter, believe that Brumel can have a second career. "Due to his steady disposition and determination he will come back," says Ozolin.

Through his ordeal, Brumel has been backed by the Ail-Union Federation of Sports Societies and the Burevestnik Society, for whose club he competes. He has always won and he wants to win again. Indeed, Brumel's desire to be first is a legend among his friends. Chistyakov recalls a day in 1964, before the Rome Olympics when he, Brumel and the celebrated long jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan had a few hours off and were shooting pistols at a target. Brumel was not quite as good as the others, but, stubbornly, he kept on shooting. In the end, he made the best score.

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