SI Vault
 
OVER AND OVER AGAIN
Roy Blount Jr.
April 24, 1972
On successive weekends, Vaulter Kjell Isaksson exceeded a world record that had lasted 18 months
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April 24, 1972

Over And Over Again

On successive weekends, Vaulter Kjell Isaksson exceeded a world record that had lasted 18 months

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"Something is not the same. You may have better technique."

"If I had better technique, I would use a stiffer pole."

Somewhat later it occurs to Isaksson why he is, indeed, using a softer pole this spring. It is the American boxes. Another variable. The sloping, vinyl-coated box beneath the bar, into which the pole is planted for the vault, is supposed to be eight inches deep, but in this country, Isaksson maintains, the measurement is made along the slope. At an indoor meet in San Diego last February the box was two inches shallower than a European or a Japanese one, according to Isaksson, and he failed to clear 16'6". At UCLA, where he and Lagerqvist train, he has accommodated himself to the box, which he says is only �" off, but in order to do so he has had to get a series of softer poles.

Other things come along to hinder, if not to bring down for long, the world's highest vaulter. In 1969, while doing step-ups, going up and down only a few inches but with 100 kilos on his shoulders, he lost his balance and fell. The weight compressed certain of his vertebrae. That injury kept him idle for two months, and he thinks that all the other injuries he has had since then may derive from it. Last year he suffered five hamstrings. Before the UCLA meet he pulled something in his back.

Everybody has problems. Asked what Isaksson is like personally, Cedrup, the journalist, says, "He knows what he wants. He likes Japanese girls." Cedrup adds, "Kjell has had a harmonious life lately. He hasn't been unlucky in love but four or five times this year." Currently Isaksson wears on a chain around his neck a small gold disk bearing a Japanese character. The medallion was a present from a girl he met at a meet last month in Tokyo. "He was a little upset when that girl friend in Japan got married," says Lagerqvist.

Another thing: sometimes, Isaksson admits, he has bad dreams about the pole vault. "It is feeling difficult to jump. I can't leave the ground. I feel that the pole is a rope, and I can't plant it, because"—he makes wobbly motions with his hands—"it is a rope. You call it a...nightmare? The night before a big meet sometimes I have a nightmare. Especially about the pole is a rope. Because you can't use the pole. Never good dreams. Just bad. You can't leave the ground." He shakes his head. "And I dreamed once it was the Olympics and I couldn't be there on time."

These are some of the things that Isaksson is not thinking about, presumably, as he prepares for his last run at 18'2" in the Meet of Champions. The box is deep enough, there is nothing to be done about the girl, the pole is not a rope because it is the same one he set the record with the week before, and the blue balloon tied to the javelin stuck into the ground beside the runway shows that he has the wind at his back, which he likes because it helps him go faster.

The bar is way up there. It takes four AAU officials in light gray pants, dark gray blazers and white straw hats; one official in red pants, a black blazer and red hat; and four boys in light blue T shirts to get the bar aloft and to measure its height. "No way I'm going up there," says one of the Gray Blazers, as another one mounts the ladder and stands on the 14th step, four people holding the ladder for him, the wind whipping his tape measure.

Isaksson has missed twice at 18'2". "He's got great coordination and really good timing," says Railsback, as Isaksson gets ready to go again. "And the utmost confidence in himself. He has pretty good speed, and he converts it well. He has a very efficient plant. He gets into it and through it well. In a good vault, you should feel no strain. That's one of the bad things about vaulting—you remember the bad ones, because it's a struggle all the way up. The good ones you never feel.

"The first two tries he was a little too quick," Railsback observes. "He was going at it. Instead of...that's a good jump." That is, in fact, in the subsequent words of the P.A. announcer, "The greatest pole vault of all time." He has made it. While Railsback was analyzing his style, Isaksson had soared.

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