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  • Olympic Pole Vault Champion Don Bragg, 83


    02/18/19

    (ATR) Don Bragg, the 1960 Rome Olympic pole vault champion, died Saturday at the age of 83.
    Don Bragg at competition in 1961 (Getty Images)

    Bragg was living in northern California and was battling dementia in recent years, according to his nephew, Mike Stranahan.

    Nicknamed “Tarzan” and known as a multi-talented Renaissance man, Bragg became a U.S. national icon when he vaulted 15 feet, 5 inches (4.70 meters) to win the Olympic title on an inflexible aluminum pole which required significantly more upper-body strength than today’s fiberglass poles. His winning vault was an Olympic record.

    "I hate to say it, but everything since 1960 has been downhill," Bragg told Sports Illustrated in 1980. "That's a fact that exists. To be obsessed by a goal, then go get it, what can top that?"

    Bragg had broken the world record – clearing 15 feet, 9 1/4 inches (4.80 meters) on July 2, 1960 in the lead-up to the Olympics, establishing him as the favorite. His world record, which was set at the U.S. Olympic trials in Palo Alto, California, stood until May of the following year, when George Davies eclipsed it by an inch.

    Bragg in 2012 (Getty Images)
    The pole vault legend from Penns Grove, New Jersey was also the 1959 Pan American Games champion and a six-time AAU champion. He was also the 1955 NCAA champion while at Villanova University.

    At the 1960 Games, Bragg developed a long-term friendship with fellow Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay.

    Bragg, who stood 6-foot-3 and weighed close to 200 pounds, was a physical specimen and revered as a fitness addict when he became Olympic champion in 1960.

    In addition to his pole vaulting talents, the outgoing Bragg was also an actor, author, poet and motivational speaker. He became the athletic director at Stockton State College in New Jersey, was a health club owner and worked at the New Jersey governor’s office as a youth-recreation adviser.

    Bragg is survived by his wife Theresa and four children, Renee, Mark, Tracey, and Jeff.

    Written by Brian Pinelli

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