"I told you! I told you! He's great!" shouted Nehemiah as the crowd loosed a roar. "Did you see before, when it was at 18'6", Bill looked at the bar and said, 'Cake'?" Olson gave the fans one jubilant lap of the track and went under the stands to phone his parents in Abilene.
Olson has lived his entire life in Abilene, except for the first semester of his freshman year in college, which he spent 200 miles away at Baylor. "I had vaulting problems there," says Olson. "It was a runner's school. When I got there I was jumping 16 feet, but by Christmas break I couldn't even plant a pole. I said, whoa, this is big trouble here."
He transferred to Abilene Christian and became an 18'7" vaulter by 1980. He feels comfortable at the small. Church of Christ-affiliated university and at various times has been a sportswriter for the college newspaper and a morning disc jockey for the campus radio station. "We play your basic kiddie Top 40," he says. "You know [voice lowers, twang melts], 'Hi out there, this is KACU and it's a beautiful 48 degrees in Abilene at 7:45....' "
Olson, who still lives with his parents, almost always calls home right after any meet, regardless of his performance, regardless of the time. But Bill Olson Sr. is accustomed to receiving calls at any hour from odder characters than even pole vaulters. He owns SOS Bail Bond in partnership with a professional wrestler named Don (The Lawman) Sletton. "The Lawman's a real asset in bail bonding." says young Bill, who hopes to join the business someday. "All the crooks know him. All the crooks go to rasslin' matches." Bill Jr.'s part-time work for the firm has allowed him to meet such notables as "Jesus' best friend...he told me he and Jesus eat together all the time."
After Olson told his parents about his record vault, he remembered something. "I have to hang up now," he said to them. "Earl's still jumping. I might have to go higher to win." He hustled back out onto the floor, whereupon Nehemiah called to him. "Bill! How high you going? Nineteen?"
"Nineteen," affirmed Olson.
"Nineteen easy?" asked Nehemiah. No response.
Bell's initial try at 18'10" was so close that the bar didn't wobble off until he was well on his way down, but his last jump was a solid failure. Olson, having finally won the competition, requested a height of 19'�".
Olson's first and third attempts were decent tries—misses—but his second was truly exceptional. He got over the bar with several inches to spare but was so excited he threw his arms back too hard as he began his descent, thereby causing his chest to thrust forward into the bar, knocking it off. "I could have made 5.78 meters [18'11�"] on that," said Olson. "I know I can jump 5.80 [19'�"]. Right now I'm thinking 5.85 [19'4�"]. Tonight was just amazing. People were jumping out of their heads."
"Those guys were killing those heights," said Nehemiah, who the next night in Dallas would knock off another of his own indoor world hurdle reccords—60 yards, which he covered in 6.82, surpassing his old mark by .07. "I don't think the American vaulters will have to take a backseat to the Europeans anymore," said Olson, aware that in 1981 Bell was the only U.S. vaulter ranked in the world's top 10 (he was sixth). "I think," Olson continued, "you have just seen the turn of the tide."