Kjell Isaksson

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Kjell Gunnar Isaksson (born February 28, 1948 in Härnösand, Västernorrland, Sweden) is a retired pole vaulter from Sweden, who broke the world record several times in 1972. Initially he broke the record set by Christos Papanikolaou of Greece and San Jose State University two years earlier, by jumping 5.51 metres in Austin, Texas—the second man to clear 18 feet. A week later he improved to 5.54 in Los Angeles, California.[1] His technique inspired several aspects of the Petrov/Bubka model.[2] Two months later he added another centimeter at a meet in Helsingborg, Sweden. His record reign was ended on July 2, 1972 when Olympic Gold Medalist Bob Seagren jumped 5.63 metres at the United States Olympic Trials (track and field) before going on to take an additional silver medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics (after being forced to use an unfamiliar pole). The highest Isaksson ever jumped was 5.59, in a competition in El Paso, Texas, May 23, 1972.[3]

Isaksson is a three-time Olympian for his Sweden. He finished 5th at the 1968 Summer Olympics, no heighted after passing to 5.0 metres in the trials of the 1972 Summer Olympics and again no heighted after passing to 5.20 in the final of the 1976 Summer Olympics.[4]


Kjell Isaksson achieved international fame in the late 1970s as one of the most successful Superstars competitors, winning two European titles and finishing second in the inaugural 1977 World Championship. Immensely strong and competitive, Isaksson dominated European competition in 1975 and 1976, defeating British Superstar David Hemery twice, and scoring 56 points (out of a maximum 80) in the 1975 final.

As an amateur athlete however, Isaksson was unable to keep any of the tens of thousands of dollars he won during the events, the monies instead being awarded to the Swedish athletics association.

Isaksson was particularly strong in the running events (where he would only be allowed to compete after giving away "handicaps" to his rivals) and the gymnasium. In the weightlifting Isaksson was rarely beaten, being able to lift huge degrees above his own bodyweight, and thus beat much larger and heavier men through the coefficient system. This gave him a major chance in the 1977 World Championship, though he was hindered by the IAAF disqualifying him from professional athletics competition (and thus the running events). This was to give his American rival Bob Seagren a major advantage. Now retired from athletics, Seagren was free to compete in the running events and scored enough points here to beat Isaksson into second place. Until Brian Hooper won the last World Final in 1982, Isaksson was the most successful European Superstar ever.

Though he would compete again (losing to Brian Jacks memorably in the 1980 International Final), he never another won a Superstars event.

Superstars Record[edit]

Year Event Position
1975 Spanish Heat 1st
1975 European Final 1st
1976 Swedish Heat 1st
1976 European Final 1st
1977 World Final 2nd
1980 International 2nd


Year Tournament Venue Result Height
Representing  Sweden
1968 Olympic Games Mexico City, Mexico 11th 5.15 metres
1969 European Championships Athens, Greece 2nd 5.20 metres
1970 European Indoor Championships Vienna, Austria 2nd 5.25 metres
1971 European Indoor Championships Sofia, Bulgaria 2nd 5.35 metres
European Championships Helsinki, Finland 2nd 5.30 metres
1972 Olympic Games Munich, West Germany
no mark
1976 Olympic Games Montreal, Canada
no mark


  1. ^ Over and over again. Sports Illustrated report of the World record at 5.54m set at Los Angeles, april 1972, with interview http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1086018/ retrieved on april 14, 2013
  2. ^ Discussion of Isaksson's technique at http://www.polevaultpower.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=17391#p124729 retrieved on april 14, 2013; Bubka mentions The strategy of my coach and me was that we looked at pictures of all the best pole vaulters from around the world, and we took the best parts from them, and we created a person that had never existed "On the Road to Atlanta". The Ukrainian Weekly. 2 June 1996. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 27 August 2007. 
  3. ^ Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K-HZaXRpSA or http://vimeo.com/29876836 both retrieved on april 14, 2013
  4. ^ http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/is/kjell-isaksson-1.html
Preceded by
Greece Christos Papanikolaou
Men's Pole Vault World Record Holder
8 April 1972 – 2 July 1972
Succeeded by
United States Bob Seagren
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Men's Pole Vault Best Year Performance
Succeeded by
United States Bob Seagren