SI Vault
Joe Marshall
July 17, 1978
Soviet high jumper Vladimir Yashchenko beat Franklin Jacobs, but the U.S. team scored a rare triumph over the U.S.S.R.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 17, 1978

Not Quite As High, But A Bit Mightier

Soviet high jumper Vladimir Yashchenko beat Franklin Jacobs, but the U.S. team scored a rare triumph over the U.S.S.R.

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

The triple jump—or the hop, step and jump, as it was once known—could turn out to be a glamour event in Moscow. In addition to Butts, the U.S. has three other world-class triple jumpers—Ron Livers, Milan Tiff and Willie Banks. The current world-record holder at 58'8�" is a Brazilian, Jo�o Oliveira. There is also a certain triple jumper in Russia who didn't make the trip to Berkeley. He is Victor Saneyev, and in 1980 he will be competing on his home ground for his fourth consecutive gold medal. In Montreal he edged Butts—who had taken the lead—by 11 centimeters on the fifth of his six attempts. "I had the Gold in my pocket," says Butts. "I don't know where Saneyev found the strength. He came down the runway like a madman. Even I had to applaud."

Butts' Silver in 1976 was America's first medal of any kind in the triple jump in 48 years. The 28-year-old UCLA graduate supports his mother and sister as a security agent for a Los Angeles department store. When he trained for the 1976 Olympics, he had to begin his workouts at 5 a.m. because he held two jobs that tied him up from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. Butts competes for Athletes in Action. "I'm jumping for the glory of God," he says. "He's given me a gift, and I'm out there in good will to bring the name of Jesus Christ to those who don't know it." As they did last year, his teammates last week again voted him captain of the U.S. national team.

Butts says he likes to compete in the triple jump because it gives him the sensation of flying. As it happens, it probably was flying that did him in last weekend. He came to Berkeley from Italy via Frankfurt, where he missed a plane connection which stranded him in Germany for a full day. He then flew 11 hours to L.A. and. hopping, stepping and jumping his way to Berkeley, arrived less than 24 hours before his competition. A week before, he had broken his American record with a jump of 56'6�" at Helsinki, and he was undefeated in 13 outdoor meets in 1978, but in Berkeley the best he could get out of his travel-weary legs was 54'8�". Piskulin, a diminutive 25-year-old with a receding hairline and the demeanor of a bank clerk, won with a jump of 55'3�".

Long after the competition had ended Butts was asked if he had studied Piskulin's style. "I watch nothing Piskulin does," he said. "He doesn't inspire me. The man that inspires me is Saneyev." Then, lowering his voice to a theatrical hush. Butts revealed his fantasy about the 1980 Olympics. "It will be just the two of us, Saneyev and me, all alone in the sun. High knees. He'll make his jump and from the Russians will come a loud moan, Oooohhhhhhh. Then I'll peel my sweats off, charge down the runway and throw a 56, a 57 and a 58 at him. We'll see if he can deal. If he can, I'll just give him back-to-back aces. Their people will be booing and sobbing, but that will just turn me on. It'll be like the days of old—two gladiators with no second place. Only one guy walks out. I'm the heir apparent, and to get the crown I'm going to have to kill the king. I'm going to have to do it on his home ground, but that's O.K. with me."

For a while last winter Franklin Jacobs thought he was the king of his event. In late January he set an indoor world record of 7'7�", breaking the record of Greg Joy of Canada by a quarter of an inch. "I was sure then I was going to be the first man to reach 7'8"," he says. Yashchenko beat him to it, eclipsing Jacobs' indoor mark in the bargain, by clearing 7'8�" in Milan in March. There was a chance that Jacobs and Yashchenko would meet in Milan just three days later, but Yashchenko withdrew from the meet. Italian newspapers reported that Yashchenko had celebrated too long and too hard, and that emboldened by drink, he had told off a Soviet team official. However, in Berkeley Yashchenko did not fit the party-boy image. In contrast to the talkative, vibrant Jacobs, Yashchenko appeared shy and retiring.

On the field the two high jumpers presented just as great a contrast: Jacobs wiry, 5'8" and black, Yashchenko, a gangly 6'4", with wavy blond hair. The Ukranian-born Yashchenko is a straddler with near classic form, Jacobs a flopper with a style all his own. And while Jacobs more or less races at the bar and explodes over it, Yashchenko approaches it tentatively, as if trying to take it by surprise. Even his last few strides are little more than a lope.

Yashchenko blamed the approach area for his failure to go higher. In Berkeley jumpers start on the grass and get the surer footing of Tartan only a few feet from the bar. To make matters worse for Yashchenko, there was limited room in the area from which he started his approach, almost directly to the side of the left upright. "The runway is too short here," he said. "There was not enough room for me to run. I could only take four steps, half as many as usual." He was so uncomfortable on his second attempt at 7'7" that he veered away from the bar at the last minute to avoid taking a jump. Unfortunately, his body crossed the plane of the bar, and he was charged with an attempt without ever leaving the ground.

At an impromptu press conference after the meet, Yashchenko denied he had celebrated to excess following his Milan record. "I am very concerned and disappointed about the fact that the local newspapers have spread rumors about me that there was some drinking," he scolded. "People who write this about Russians should take off their glasses or look through them with sober eyes."

How Yashchenko celebrates his triumphs is, of course, of some concern. After all, he has broken three world records in barely a year and now has beaten Franklin Jacobs before a big American crowd in Berkeley. It seems fair to expect that there will be even more occasions to whoop it up in the future.

1 2