“At the time I didn't realise the significance of 2.30, but the crowd let me know and the next day when it was all over the media and I thought, "wow"!” Wow, indeed.
It is now nearly 30 years since the American Dwight Stones became the first man to successfully clear 2.30m in the High Jump. The date was July 11, 1973. The circumstance the international meet between West Germany, USA and Switzerland at the Olympic Stadium in Münich.
Stones, 19, had no intention of breaking any records that day. In fact, the night before, he downed some rum and cokes with Armin Dassler, head of Puma.
”To be honest, I was pretty tipsy when I left, but I didn't want to skip my habit of always practicing the day before a meet, so they drove me back to town and at 12.30am in the morning I worked out in the street.”
He wanted to do some 100 metre strides "to get my knees up and my arms working".
”The only person who saw me and my six heads was a cop, who didn't bother me.”
The next morning was spectacular with an electric blue sky.
”I had a big breakfast and really couldn't wait for the day to go by.”
Time passed slow as molasses. Remember, this was in 1973 - way before MTV, CNN, cell phones and laptops.
”I didn't read books in those days, so I played cards, hung around the hotel and decided to leave early for the Stadium. It is my favourite stadium, so I kind of liked to take in the atmosphere.”
A USA trainer messed up his taping job (measuring the approach to the uprights). Stones cut it off, got a roll of tape and did it again himself.
”I was irritated and that was good for me.”
He felt great during warm-up.
Dwight started at 1.95 and cleared this in his first attempt with a straddle. Then, 2.00m in the first with a flop. After that 2.03 in his first, (straddle), 2.06 in his first, (flop). At 2.09 and 2.12 he needed two jumps - missing a straddle, then clearing both heights with his back against the bar. He passed 2.15.
”That was very unusual for me. I don't know why I did it. Maybe just to psych out the others and to watch them. “
Of Stones’ competitors Tom Woods made the height for third and Reynaldo Brown negotiated 2.21 for second place.
For his ten last jumps Dwight used the flop:
* 2.18: 1
* 2.21: 1
* 2.24: 2
* 2.27: 3
* 2.30: 3
Dwight cleared the 2.30m high bar in his third attempt - and the eighteenth jump of the evening at 21.53hrs - and became the first world record holder using the flop that 1968 Olympic gold winner Dick Fosbury had introduced.
”I will never forget it. I was already pleased with my new personal best of 2.27, but to set a world record was truly amazing. There is a great photo of me, sailing over the bar and in my face you can see me reacting, ‘Oh, my God, I think I might have just cleared this’.”
The crowd went nuts.
”I was very fit. I was 78 kilos and had about four per cent body fat and every muscle in my body was contracting as I screamed of joy.”
The victory lap was memorable.
”Every second I was trying to grasp the idea that I was the World record holder. It was a big deal. Newspapers ran with the story and the next few weeks were crazy. You'd think I had cured cancer or something.”
But Stones found it hard to adjust to the sudden fame.
”In the aftermatch of it, ego wise I handled my bronze medal from Münich fine. I came home, I reached my goal, I competed in the Olympics, I won a medal and I have a lot more high jumping in me. But the World record? I thought that I walked on water. That just changed me.”
”I pretty much thought of myself as big stuff. And acted like it. That was the birth of ‘Dwight Stones the big mouth’.
He had an opinion on everything and was more than willing to share it, whether you wanted to hear it or not.
”As I became more educated, read more and became more up on current events, I refined my message and I got better with age. I realized that the best way to make people pay attention to me and to my event and my sport was pretty much by making me the snob's champion. Like Muhammad Ali. He had his
opponents half beaten before they got into the ring.”
So Dwight Stones put on Mickey Mouse T-shirts and a big show.
”It was all about me, but the point was to attract interest for the sport.”
During his remarkable career Stones was to set three outdoor World records and seven indoor World bests, winning two Olympic bronze medals (Münich 1972 and Montreal 1976) and was fourth in Los Angeles (1984), and was US Champion nineteen times.
He ranked number one in the world between 1973-1976, second in 1977, third 1972, 1978 and 1982 and fifth 1984.
”What I am most proud of is that I was consistent and that I peaked when it counted, says Dwight who's last meet, (not counting a few master's meets) was the US Olympic trials in Indianapolis in 1988. He cleared 2.17, but didn't make it out of the qualifying.
The Dwight Stones of 2003 has a strong resemblance to the Dwight Stones of 1973. At the age of 49 he has a youthful appearance. His passion for the sport is as genuine and burning as when he was competing and his memory is remarkable. Not only does Dwight recall his own career, he has a pretty clear picture of what his competitors did.”
”I was always a student of the event and I like to read and keep up with what is going on.”
Knowledge that landed him work as a respected commentator on US networks.
”Last year I did the winter games,” he says sporting a Salt Lake City cap. ”It was fun and challenging.”
Stones has lived in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, for the past 21 years. He makes a living selling real estate and from speaking engagements, but wishes he could do more with commentating.
“To be able to support my family, (wife Lynne, Jason, 20, Jessica, 18) doing sports would be terrific. I really enjoy being around track & field.”
So much that he coaches jumpers online.
”I don't believe there is anyone on this planet who knows more about the event than I do.”
Keijo Liimatainen for the IAAF