Soviet High Jumper Makes an Impression


On a summer afternoon at Stanford University, after the Soviet Union's track team had worked out, several of the athletes wandered into a gym, where students were playing basketball. One of the Soviets was a 20-year-old Siberian named Valery Brumel.

He began loosening up, performing light calisthenics. He stood beneath a basket and with ease jumped up and down, touching the rim with his palm.

Then he backed off toward center court, charged toward the rim, leaped and kicked the rim with his right foot. The Stanford students stared open-mouthed, unable to believe anyone could kick a basketball rim.

Two days later, before 81,000 in Stanford Stadium, Brumel drew pretty much the same reaction when he high-jumped 7 feet 5 inches on his first try.

The occasion was a USA-USSR track meet, and although four world records fell in the two-day meet, the 6-foot-1 Brumel easily stole the show.

Brumel went over the bar neatly and cleanly, before the days when jumpers went over the bar on their back. With a blend of precision and power, he lifted himself airborne with a powerful lead leg kick, so as to glide over the bar as if performing in a ballet.

Already the world-record holder at 7-4 1/2, Brumel won the event when he needed a second jump to clear 7-2. Then he cleared 7-3 and 7-4 on his first attempts, bringing the great crowd to its feet each time. And when he sailed over 7-5 on his first try, Palo Alto rocked.

Footnote: In 1983, while in Moscow with an American amateur boxing team, I asked if an interview with Brumel could be arranged. Two days later, this response: "Brumel talks to no one. He is a recluse, remaining in his apartment all the time, mumbling to himself and writing very bad poetry."

Also on this date: In 1943, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Charlie Paddock, known in his USC days as the "world's fastest human," died at 42 in a military plane crash near Sitka, Alaska. Paddock was the first man to run 100 yards in 9.5 seconds and was the 1920 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist. . . . In 1979, "Two-Ton" Tony Galento died at 69 of a heart attack. Galento nearly knocked out heavyweight champion Joe Louis in a 1939 bout before being knocked out himself. . . . In 1978, Lance Alworth became the first American Football League player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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