gonna jump again?" asked Myricks' 6-year-old cousin, who had come along
from New Jersey. When Myricks shook his head, she asked plaintively, "Why
not?" She should have asked the Athletics Congress.
used to this," said Myricks, a soft-spoken 23-year-old who works as a
recreation specialist in Florida. "I've been jumping well for four years
now, and I've never gotten the recognition I think I've deserved."
almost four years have gone by since Bell last vaulted really well. In 1976, at
the age of 20, he held the outdoor world record of 18'7�". Even then he was
a veteran. He had vaulted almost all his life back home in Jonesboro, Ark.,
where his 57-year-old father, William, a pathologist, still vaults as a hobby.
When Earl and his three brothers were youngsters, their father would handmake
poles for them because none were commercially available that were flexible
enough to be handled by 80-to 90-pound vaulters. Dr. Bell would start by
rolling craft paper to the desired diameter and then he would wrap the paper
tube with fiber glass cloth purchased at Sears, eyeballing it to what looked to
be the right thickness and binding it all together with a coating of resin.
Through trial and error, he learned how to use these materials to produce
precise degrees of flexibility and strength. When he was 14 and weighed nearly
100 pounds, Earl set a state junior high school record of 12'7�" with his
first store-bought pole.
Bell lost his
world record at the '76 Olympic Trials when Dave Roberts cleared 18'8�",
still the world's standard. He then finished sixth in Montreal and followed
that with two poor seasons, during which he suffered pain in his back and left
side. By the end of 1978 his left leg hurt so much that he could hardly jog. In
early 1979 Pasadena chiropractor Dr. Leroy Perry discovered the cause when he
measured Bell and found that his left leg was ? of an inch shorter than his
right. To compensate, Bell gradually built up the heel of his left shoe, so
that now when he is vaulting he appears to be wearing one track flat and one
slightly out-of-style wedgie. At the moment this ?-inch buildup has placed Bell
in violation of an international track rule that specifies a limit of about lA
inch (13 mm). The rule was written to prevent athletes from gaining height and
spring by building up both shoes. Bell has appealed his case. "I'm not
trying to cheat," he pleads. "I just want two legs that are the same
length. And there's no way I can cut the other one down."
This year Bell
moved from Arkansas to Live Oak, Calif., on the Feather River north of
Sacramento, where he is training under Dick Tomlinson, a sometime pole-vault
coach who manages a kiwi farming corporation. A kiwi is a tart, egg-shaped
fruit brought to America from New Zealand and so little known in the U.S. that
Bell occasionally lists his affiliation as the Whatsakiwi Track Club. Tomlinson
has improved Bell's technique, with gratifying results. In 1980 Bell has been
the most consistent U.S. vaulter—and the loftiest, with an 18'3�" jump last
month in Winnipeg. Not that training has come easy. A recent flood picked up
Bell's homemade wooden runway and carried it off", "possibly to the
Pacific," he says. The foam rubber landing pad also floated away, but
Tomlinson hopped in a rowboat, chased the 14' x 16' pad down and tied it to a
Such trials and
tribulations no doubt deserve an indoor world record, but Bell will have to
wait a little while longer to get his. He failed on all three attempts at the
Garden, which is just as well because if he had cleared the bar it probably
would have been remeasured at 18'5�". No matter. With his single successful
jump, Bell set a meet record, won his first national indoor championship, got
the evening's biggest roar from the Garden crowd and proved that he can measure
up to the best in the world.