Wisconsin high jumper sets M80 American record
Bill Wambach, an 80-year-old from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, cleared 1.26 (4-1 1/2) yesterday at the Badger State Games to break the listed M80 American record in the high jump, reports his local paper. The old record was 1.22 (4-0) by Arizona’s Virgil McIntyre set in 1991. The listed M80 world record is 1.3(4-4 3/4) by Austria’s Emmerich Zensch in 2000. Don’t hold your breath on Bill’s mark being ratified as a record. State Games are notorious for not crossing T’s and dotting I’s on record attempts. (In fact, the results PDF says Bill cleared 4-1 3/4 — slightly higher than 1.26. All marks need to be set and recorded metrically, and I doubt it was done here.)
Here’s the story:
Badger State Games: With inpiration from old teammate, 80-year-old sets national high jump record
By Jason McMahon
Don Bauer saw a familiar face when he picked up the paper on Friday morning. You never forget an old teammate — even if it’s been 60 years.
The mug shot belonged to Bill Wambach, a Sun Prairie man who six decades ago was a track and field athlete at Marquette University along with Bauer. The two haven’t seen each other since.
Until Sunday, when Bauer helped lead the cheers as Wambach, 80, set a national record in the high jump at the Badger State Games. Wambach leapt 1.26 meters (4 feet, 1.6 inches) at Mansfield Stadium, establishing a new benchmark for the men’s 80-84 age group.
“To see Bill, when he put that foot down and he leaped, you leap with him,” Bauer said. “And when his leg shaved that bar, that quiver goes right down your back because you don’t want it to fall for him. And the joy, the joy, to see him get it and his expression, that’s what it’s all about. You can’t buy things like that.”
Wambach easily cleared the bar at 4 feet (1.22 meters), matching the national record set 15 years ago. He had to begin his straight-on 10-step approach on the grass, as he still favors the old Western Roll technique. (The present-day high jumping method, dubbed the Fosbury Flop after 1968 Olympic gold medalist Dick Fosbury, didn’t become popular until 20 years after Wambach’s collegiate career ended.)
The reunion of old teammates Bauer and Wambach came after the record-tying jump, and Bauer positioned himself near the pit to give Wambach some coaching after each subsequent attempt.
“Unbelievable. A guy from 60 years ago is going to drive all that way to say ‘Hi, Bill, remember me?’” Wambach said. “That he would drive all the way here and then be nice enough to stand right at the end. That’s the only place a coach can help you.”
Wambach elected to have the bar raised the minimum two centimeters, and cleared 1.24 meters despite grazing the bar with his trail leg. He rolled over on the mat and saw the bar still in place, then put both hands over his head in amazement of what he had just accomplished.
“I thought, ‘Down it’s going,’” Wambach said. “I couldn’t believe it, because I hit it.”
Moments later, he did the same thing at 1.26 meters, nicking the bar but still succeeding in his first attempt. Wambach — who had no illusions of going after the world record for his age group, which stands at 1.34 meters (4-4) — missed three straight attempts at 1.28 meters, though nearly had it on his final try.
The affable Wambach has been a local media darling this past week, drawing attention from newspapers, radio and TV shows. The hype fostered a sizable crowd, which included his wife of 58 years, Lorette, and two of their eight children.
“It was thrilling,” Lorette Wambach said. “I didn’t know if he’d fall flat on his face or not, so I was real pleased for him.”
Wambach, who once cleared 6-2 while at Marquette, revived his high jumping career in 1979 when his son anonymously sent him an entry form for a masters track meet, and he’s been at it ever since. He’s amassed quite a few local records, and thought he had a national record last fall, only to find out he had jumped 4-0 in a meet that wasn’t officially certified.
There were no such problems at the Badger State Games. And Wambach — who also competed in the triple jump on Sunday — is already eyeing the next age group, though doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
“I would like to look at 85 and see if I can break that record,” Wambach said. “But five years is a long time. We don’t even buy green bananas!”