Paul Wilson (pole vaulter)

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Paul Wilson (born July 30, 1947)[1] is an American athlete specializing in the pole vault. He was the world record holder in the event. The first vaulter to clear his age in feet. In 1967 he was the number-one ranked pole vaulter in the world, but his career was cut short by injury.

Athletic career[edit]

High school[edit]

Wilson was an outstanding high-school pole vaulter. As a student of Warren High School (Downey, California), he was coached by John Mitchell.

In 1964 as a junior, Wilson came to the attention of Sports Illustrated magazine. SI published his "whizzer of 15 feet" in their March 16 edition and awarded him an "Award of Merit" for setting the interscholastic age record.[2] He broke the age record by becoming the first 16-year-old to clear 16 feet.[3]

A year later, in 1965, as a senior, he won CIF Southern Section and CIF California State Meet titles and had achieved an age best in the pole vault of 16 ft 6.75 in (5.05 m).[4] On 20 March 1965, he vaulted 16-6 3/4 at the Southern Counties meet as a Senior.[4] At the CIF Southern Section Track Championships, held on 28 May 1965 at Cerritos College, Wilson won with a height of 16-0.[4] He set records with his performances at the CIF Southern Section Championships (16-1 1/2) and California State Championships (15-6 1/2).[4] His personal best height of 16-6 3/4 was the best mark on record for a California high school athlete (more than 5 inches higher than the next highest mark, at 16-1 by fellow Warren High School athlete Bob Steinhoff),[4] set a national interscholastic track & field record,[4] and stood as the best in the world.[4]

Wilson was twice named as Athlete of the Year in the CIF Southern Section by the Helms Athletic Foundation.[4] In 1964 he was awarded for his pole vault of 16-0 1/8, in conjunction with hurdler Earl McCullough.[4] In 1965 he was named again, this time for vaulting 16-6 3/4, with the co-award going to runner Richard Joyce; the two athletes were named together because both had won CIF and State meets and both had set new National Interscholastic records (Joyce's record in the 880 yard run still stands today because high schools metrified in 1980).[4]

He was selected to the 1965 Honor Track & Field Team in the All-Southern Section of CIF by a panel of area sports writers.[4]


After graduating high school, Wilson attended the University of Southern California (USC), where he competed for the USC Trojans athletics team.[5] In his first year there, Wilson "hoisted the collegiate vault standard to 17-1."[3]

1967 was Wilson's best year, as a 19-year-old college sophomore. He was United States champion[6] and that winning vault broke the world record. He achieved this feat on 23 June 1967 in Bakersfield, California, with a height of 5.38 m (17 ft 8 in).[7][8] It was the same day Jim Ryun set his long lasting world record in the mile. His record of 17-7 3/4 continues to be the sixth best height ever achieved by a USC Trojan.[5]

Although he was the world record holder, injury prevented Wilson from competing at the United States trials for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.[9]

The injury prematurely ended his career.

Records and rankings[edit]

During his curtailed career, Wilson was a formidable performer at USA national championships, held by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).[10] Wilson was also voted by the experts at Track and Field News[11] to be ranked among the best in the USA and the world at the pole vault during his career.[12][13]

Pole Vault: Records held by Wilson
Year CIF Southern CA State AAU National World
1965 MR[4] MR[4] NA AR[4] WR[4]
1966 NA NA CR[3]
1967 NA NA CR AR[6][7] WR[7][9]

MR = Meet record, CR = Collegiate record, AR = American record, WR = World record, NA = not applicable

Pole vault: Ranking held by Wilson
Year World rank[12] US rank[13] USA Championships[10]
1965 7th 5th 4th
1966 4th 3rd 2nd
1967 1st 1st 1st
Preceded by
United States Bob Seagren
Men's Pole Vault World Record Holder
June 23, 1967 – September 12, 1968
Succeeded by
United States Bob Seagren


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2013-12-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ James, Sidney L. (4 May 1964), "Letter From The Publisher", Sports Illustrated
  3. ^ a b c Nelson, Bert (22 May 1966). "Pole Vaulting Is Really Taking Off This Year". The Tuscaloosa News. The Associated Press.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Southern California High School Track & Field Record, 1965 Season (PDF), Helms Athletic Foundation, 1965, retrieved 24 March 2013
  5. ^ a b "USC Men's Top 10 Performers". The Official Site of USC Trojan Athletics. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  6. ^ a b "US Men's Outdoor Pole Vault Champions". 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Imre Matrahazi (ed.). Progression of IAAF World Records, 2011 Edition. IAAF Athletics. p. 163.
  8. ^ Wallace, William N. (23 June 1967). "This Day in Sports". New York Times.
  9. ^ a b Hymans, Richard (2008), The History of the United States Olympic Trials - Track & Field (PDF), USA Track & Field, p. 144
  10. ^ a b "History of US Nationals Results: POLE VAULT". Track and Field News. 2005. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  11. ^ "Track & Field News Rankings". Track & Field News. Retrieved 25 July 2013. The Track & Field News World Rankings, the definitive work on the subject for more than 60 years, are coordinated by T&FN Editor E. Garry Hill. Current members of the international Rankings team are Nejat Kök, Dave Johnson, Richard Hymans & Jonathan Berenbom. The first-ever Rankings, for the '47 season (men only), were the brainchild of T&FN cofounder Cordner Nelson. The next year he handed the task off to stat legends R.L. Quercetani & Don Potts, who shepherded the project for the next three decades.... The whole purpose of our World Rankings is to establish relative merit for the single season in question. They are not reflective of how the compilers felt athletes would have finished in any kind of idealized competition. Ergo, the "best" athlete in any given year isn't always No. 1.... The Rankings are based on these 3 criteria, in descending order of importance: 1. Honors Won; 2. Head-To-Head records with other athletes; 3. Sequence Of Marks.
  12. ^ a b "World Rankings Index — Men's Pole Vault" (PDF). Track and Field News.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ a b "All-Time U.S. Rankings — Men's Pole Vault" (PDF). Track and Field News. 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-12-01.