SI Vault
 
CAL CUTS DOWN THE BARBERIANS
Pat Putnam
June 29, 1970
Led by a coach who doesn't give a hang about hair, the University of California, which hadn't won an NCAA track championship since 1922 and didn't score a point last year, got off fast to win at Des Moines
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June 29, 1970

Cal Cuts Down The Barberians

Led by a coach who doesn't give a hang about hair, the University of California, which hadn't won an NCAA track championship since 1922 and didn't score a point last year, got off fast to win at Des Moines

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"You can't be serious," said Hirschi. "Lord, if you win this we might still win the championship."

"No way," said Alarotu.

Hirschi begged, threatened, cajoled. At last, for the sake of God, motherhood, Finland, America and the honor of the Mormon Church, Alarotu agreed to test the runway. The vaulters were starting at the middle of one curve of the indoor track and then, running downhill, swooping toward the bar. Alarotu tried it, found he could go faster downhill than ever before and stayed in.

When Ernst went out at 16'6", Maggard said, looking not the least surprised, "I guess it's all over."

"Congratulations, coach," said a fan. "You're the only guy who ever won an NCAA outdoors championship indoors watching a pole vault in an abandoned barn."

If it was over for California, it wasn't for Jan Johnson, a Kansas sophomore who was to come within a hair of being the world's first 18-foot vaulter. On his third try Johnson was over at that height, but his chest barely touched the bar. For a moment it rocked, then fell. He won at 17'7", which would have been the best ever indoors except for the fact that the runway was downhill.

"If I had relaxed on the way down I would have had 18 feet," said Johnson. "But I'm happy. I didn't really expect to vault well today. I dreamed I was vaulting all last night and when I woke up I was exhausted. It's almost as tough as vaulting over bales of hay with a pitchfork."

Over what? With what?

He laughed. "That's how I learned. Me and my kid brother. Then we switched to a barbed-wire fence using a copper pipe. Look at this." He pulled up the left leg of his shorts. A long jagged scar ran down the inside of his thigh. "Seventeen stitches," he said. "I'll tell you, going over barbed wire, that's clutch vaulting."

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