John Pennel passes 17 feet

In Miami, Florida on August 24, 1963, pole vaulter John Pennel became the first pole vaulter to clear 17 feet in competition when he jumped 17 feet and 3/4 inches.

His record was taken by Wolfgang Nordwig of East Germany later the same year.

Pennel was one of the pioneers of the fiber glass pole for vaulting in the early 1960s. He competed in the ’64 games in Tokyo. He came home ranked 11th in the world. He also competed in the ’68 games in Ciudad de México where he placed fifth just before he retired. He never managed to take an Olympic medal home despite the milestone he helped the sport pass.

Pennel broke the world record 10 times between 1963 and 69. However, only four of his records were ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations. His final world record was set on August 24, 1968. 17 feet 0 3/4 inches at the Gold Coast meet at the University of Miami. He was born in Memphis and attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He died at age 53 in 1993 in California. Even with no Olympic wins,  he is one of the most important modern pole vaulters for his achievements.

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