Story from an athlete….. Bruce Simpson

Story from an athlete….. Bruce Simpson has shared this with Ian Anderson and Ian
thought maybe some of you might be interested in reading this piece as it relates to officials.
Bruce had great career as an Olympic Pole Vaulter in the    60s and 70s.  He has returned to the
sport as a Masters vaulter.

Bruce Simpson vaulting

I recently learned that some people have a copy of the attached black and white photograph of
me jumping, and I was asked for the background. In 1958, after I won my public-school field
day, my grandfather said that I would go to the Olympics one day. I did not have a clue what the
Olympics were. In grade 3, I was mesmerized by pole vaulters in our school yard. I “borrowed”
(permanently) their bamboo pole and jumped in our back yard. I looked at the telephone line
which hung over our wood chip pit and thought that I would jump that high (about fourteen feet)
one day. In high school, I won OFSAA four times and was second once. My coach, Vladimir
Kostric, allowed the high school girls to jump with us when they asked, but he apologized that
there were no official competitions for them. The women’s vault became an Olympic event in
In the fall of 1970, Vlado learned that the qualifying round for the Munich Olympics was
scheduled for 10:00 in the morning. At that time, our international meets were usually late at
night. To prepare, we started some jumping practices in the morning. It took me over a year to
clear a height in the morning. Two years later I easily qualified for the Olympic finals. Some
good international vaulters were not so prepared.
Two weeks prior to the Olympics there was a competition in a suburb of Munich. The event
was officiated by the German, Klaus Lehnertz (the “Official”), who was to officiate the games.

The Americans had won every previous Olympic vault. The East German, Wolfgang Nordwig,
finished third to Bob Seagram who was the winner at the previous Olympics in Mexico.
During the suburb competition, an American vaulter put a towel in the box (the place where
we place the pole at the end of the runway). The Official said that vaulters could not put the
towel there. When asked why, the Official said, “Because there is no rule that says you can.” I
realized that there was no reason to dispute an official who thinks in that manner. Following the
meet, in polite discussion with the Official, I learned that he was interned in Kapuskasing during
the war. We talked about the beauty of Northern Ontario.
The day before the Olympics, I enquired where to deliver our poles for pre-competition
clearance. I was told that it was not necessary. At 7:00 pm that night, notice was sent to the pole
vaulters’ delegations that all poles had to be delivered to the stadium that evening. At significant
disruption to me, I took both my black poles and the newer green poles for inspection. I
specifically asked if the green poles were permitted. I was told “Yes,” so I left the green poles
and returned the black poles to the athletes’ village.
The morning of the pole vault qualification, the vaulters arrived at the stadium to pick up our
poles. The green poles were rendered “disallowed” by the Official. I was angered by the politics
of it, but rather than become overly upset which would ruin my focus on vaulting, I asked
whether I could replace the green poles with my black poles which were a kilometer away in the
athletes’ village. I reasoned in my mind that this would be a better way to warm-up. Rather than
run four laps, I could now run to the village. I chose to believe that I disliked running in circles
and the cross-country jog was better.
I jogged to the village, climbed the fence, picked up my black poles, and jogged back to the
stadium with my poles overhead through the thousands of spectators enroute to watch the
competition. After delivering the poles, Bob and I walked towards the stadium for our runway
warm up. The Official turned us back and told us that we had to prepare on the warmup track.
Wolfgang walked by us. He was permitted by the Official to enter the Stadium for his warmup.
Clearly the Official was trying to throw Wolfgang’s competitors off our focus for the
competition. I thought that if I became upset the Official would have succeeded in his objective.
That realization has served me well over the years with people who are seeking to improperly
leverage their position by upsetting me.
Wolfgang wore a large armband on his left wrist which is of assistance to vault higher. Other
vaulters also wore an armband but none of those vaulters qualified for the final. At the start of
the final competition, with the huge crowd of spectators in the stadium, I spoke to the Official
about Northern Ontario, the suburban meet, and the towel incident. He immediately recollected
that the towel had to be removed because there was no rule that said it could be there. I asked if
the Official could direct me to the rule which allowed Wolfgang to wear the armband. I chuckled
The Official paused and at that moment we both knew that he was interpreting the rules
arbitrarily for the unfair advantage of his country’s athlete. He replied that Wolfgang had a
medical certificate to wear the armband. I thanked him and proceeded to the competition. On
reflection, I could/should have had my federation lodge a complaint and demand the production
of the certificate or removal of the arm band. I did not dislike Wolfgang. I was offended by the
Official’s intrusion of politics into our competition.
The Black & White “Picture”

The winter following the 1972 Olympics, Dinah Christie, who was a Canadian TV personality,
called me to deliver the Picture on behalf of her friend. At first look, the Picture illustrates a
technical abomination of a jump. Really, it was embarrassing.
There are two critical factors to the clearance of any height by a pole vaulter. First, you must
attain a height which is higher than the crossbar. Secondly, you must reach that height where the
crossbar is. There is a range of eighty centimeters depth beyond the back of the box where the
crossbar can be set based on your running speed, grip height on the pole, and flex strength of the
In my career, like all vaulters, I have hit the crossbar off while still going up because it was set
too close. Many hundreds of times I have been well above the crossbar, but my center of gravity
was coming down in front of the crossbar which caused me to knock the crossbar off. In the
jump in the Picture, I had plenty of height, but my center of gravity was well in front of the
crossbar. Based on my many years of experience, it was certain that I would dislodge the
crossbar on the way down. Since this was my third attempt, I would be disqualified from the
Games. In the few hundredths of a second at the apex of the jump, I knew from everything that I
had ever tried to escape that demise before, it was over.
It is said that you cannot solve a problem by using the same actions that were not successful
previously. So, rather than do what I had always tried which did not work, or simply do what the
coaches and athletes said was the most correct technique, which also did not work, I did
something novel. To a pole vaulter, the position in the Picture is all wrong. I had never done that
position before and have never since. I did not turn my thumbs in to make my chest more
concave to curl around the crossbar. I did not tuck my chin towards the crossbar to get more
carry. These things and many other efforts had never produced a successful clearance. I started to
This Picture is a few hundredths of a second after all the lights for success had gone out. I had
been there before many times and I “knew” it was all over, there was no clearance route
available. The Picture may be the ugliest technical position that I have ever seen on any of my
many thousands of photographed jumps. It turned out to be the position I needed for a successful
clearance! The expression on my face is not one of joy. It is the result of a grotesque effort to not
touch the crossbar on my descent.
Shortly following this vault, I cleared 5.20 meters on my first vault. At that point, we were
four hours into the competition. When Wolfgang cleared 5.20, he put on a parka, thick mitts, and
a toque. I had no such gear. I had never jumped in southern Germany at this time of year. A great
concern passed through me. After four hours to get to this point of the competition, my next
jump was two hours later. The temperature during my wait went down to 8 degrees Celsius.
Immediately following the competition, I left the stadium. I did not believe that the event had
been fairly run. I did not want to endorse the results. I later came to see that my non-participation
in the medal ceremony (the top six finishers are recognized on the podium) was also a form of
politics and it was wrong on my part to not recognize the institution of the Olympics. My
Olympic participation and my fifth-place certificate were mailed to me months later. They are
framed and hang in my law office.
This Picture is the only vaulting photograph which we have in our home. It hangs in the
stairwell going down to the main floor. I pass it every day. When all the lights have gone out in
my daily life, which has happened on a few occasions, I am reminded that there may still be a
viable solution even if I have not recognized it previously. The only failure is to not pursue a
new solution.

There were three changes to the IAAF pole vault rules the following year (coined the
Simpson rules). You cannot put anything in the box. You can wear an arm band. Poles must be
commercially available for one year prior to use in the Olympics. I now note as a lawyer that, at
the time, there was no rule that said you cannot use a pole which was not commercially available
for a year prior to the Games.
From early in my career my goals were: to win the Maple Leaf Gardens International meet,
win the Olympics, and jump the world record. My best finish at the Gardens was second,
although a clearance at 18 feet which would have won, was knocked off by an official. I did
jump the indoor world record in practice and attempted it unsuccessfully twice in competition.
Now at the age of seventy-one, the world record is getting closer, only 3.47 meters. My
objectives now are:  do not get injured, have fun, and jump high.
At the Olympics in Munich, the Official would not let vaulters from the same country speak or
assist one another. I was most struck by the fact that we assisted one another, including Nordwig.
It seemed to me that we did not want to beat anyone, we just wanted to jump higher and win.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who made my athletics career possible:
Coaches, administrators, officials, competitors, and many who I am unaware of. I am unable to
thank those people now, so I choose to pass it forward as best I can.
Bruce Simpson (January 10, 2022 – 50 years later)

Thank you, Ian and Bruce, for sharing this story.  If you have an officiating story to share please
send it on to Brian of Lynn

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