SI Vault
Kenny Moore
August 11, 1980
Sebastian Coe, recipient of a cabled reproach after the 800, outkicked Steve Ovett (279) in the 1,500
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August 11, 1980

How's This, Mrs. Mullory?

Sebastian Coe, recipient of a cabled reproach after the 800, outkicked Steve Ovett (279) in the 1,500

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"Ladies and gentlemen, silence please," warned the public address announcer in three languages. To no effect. Amid more whistles, Houvion cleared, as did defending champion Tadeusz Slusarski of Poland.

The bar went to 18'8¼". To the shock of the Russians and delight of the Poles, Kozakiewicz lifted himself cleanly over. He was the only vaulter using a Fiber-sport pole, made by Bruce Caldwell of Kansas City.

Now the pink-cheeked Volkov, the indoor record holder, got whistles from the Polish blocs scattered in the crowd. He missed. Again more pleas for quiet. Then Houvion was up. Everybody, Poles and Russians, whistled, and he missed. As the pandemonium increased, so did the misses. When Slusarski went out, Soviet spectators near the pit yelled, "Bravo!"

Then Volkov passed his last try at 18'8¼", and the bar went to 18'10¼". "I only had one good one left in me," he explained later, "and I wanted to win." But the unflappable Kozakiewicz, up first, made this height, too, through a blizzard of jeers, and as he bounded from the pit he presented the non-Polish majority of the crowd with a forceful gesture of deep personal insult.

Volkov sat on a bench sniffing smelling salts, then had his final try, a close miss, and pounded the pit in frustration. Kozakiewicz went on to make 18'11½", the first time in 60 years that a world record was set in the Olympic pole vault. And his second of three misses at 19'1¼" would have cleared 19 feet.

"Yes, the whistling hurt our performance," Kozakiewicz said. "All of us wish to win. But not at any price."

The rest of the Olympic jumps were not quite as fanatically followed, but all were of remarkable quality. In the men's long jump, Lutz Dombrowski, a candid, offhand East German who prefers the triple jump, became the first human to achieve a 28-footer, with 28'¼", 12 years after Bob Beamon's 29'2½" in Mexico City. "Beamon's record isn't eternal," said Dombrowski, "but I don't think I'll ever break it."

In that vein, when East Germany's Gerd Wessig won the men's high jump with a world-record 7'8¾", he said, "It is absolutely crazy to jump such a height," and everybody believed him because he'd been acting a little wacky all day. A 21-year-old cook, Wessig had a previous best of 7'6½", and with each clearance above that he flung himself about like a dervish. After his record jump he bounced out of the pit headfirst in disbelief, crumpling on the takeoff apron, and officials and opponents rushed to him, not for congratulations but to see if he'd broken his neck.

By contrast, the U.S.S.R.'s defending champion, Yuri Sedykh, was serene in the hammer throw, lofting four of his six throws beyond the world record, his best being 268'4½".

The final track and field world record was set by the East German women's 400-meter relay team, which passed the baton atrociously but burned the ground in between to finish in 41.60.

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