Can I be calm, can I be cool,
Can I be king and not the fool?
(From the poem TEMPER by Don Bragg, 1960 Olympic pole-vault champion)
At a cocktail party in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Regency Hotel casino, a proper young woman carrying a silver tray laden with elegant hors d'oeuvres, approaches Bragg. Bragg passes his cigar over the dainty creations, tapping off the ash as he does so, exhales a huge puff of smoke at the woman, then belches. She scurries off to regain her sensibilities. Bragg laughs loudly. He laughs alone. An onlooker says, "Don, you're outrageous."
"No, I'm not."
"Oh, what would you consider outrageous?"
"I have a friend who throws ashtrays around in bars. Now that's outrageous. See what I mean?"
"But sticking that paper napkin in your mouth, chewing it up and spitting it out is not outrageous?"
"Or putting that wine cork in your nose at dinner last night?"
"Certainly not. I can see you don't understand. When I do something like that, some people will look at me in disgust, but others will laugh and things will get better. All I want is to try and make life a little less boring. See, most people superficially float through their calendar."
Don Bragg, who is 44, doesn't float through his calendar, he crashes. In fact, he hasn't floated over much of anything since that glorious September day two decades ago when he cleared 15'5" in Rome, an Olympic record. He also held the world indoor (15'9½") and outdoor (15'9¼") records. And while 18-foot vaults are fairly routine now that fiberglass poles are being used, nobody ever jumped higher than Bragg with the old stiff, aluminum pole (except for a disputed vault of 15'9¾" by Bob Gutowski in 1957). Indeed, Bragg and another gold-medal vaulter, the Rev. Bob Richards, have offered $10,000 to anyone who can jump 15'9" with the old-style pole.