On a day when temperatures hit 100 degrees, Santa Clara’s Don Pellmann was a 100-year-old man on fire, setting five world records Sunday at the San Diego Senior Olympics.
Pellmann became the first centenarian to clear a bar in the high jump, eventually reaching .90 meters (2 feet 11 1/2 inches). He became the first 100-year-old long jumper — going 5-10. And he shattered age-group world records in the 100-meter dash, shot put and discus.
His only disappointment came in the pole vault, where he failed to clear his opening height of 3-1 3/4 (after getting over a bar in warmups).
Shadowed by New York Times sports columnist Karen Crouse of Phoenix and former Union-Tribune photographer Sandy Huffaker, Pellmann wasn’t happy with his marks but got encouragement along the way.
“Don, you’re in better shape than me now,” Crouse told the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Pellmann in a tiny training room adjacent to the Mondo track, where he received the first athletic massage of his life — from trainer Ardy Riego.
- Earlier: San Diego May See First 100-Year-Old Pole Vaulter
- Results: San Diego Senior Olympics 2015 track and field meet
- New York Times: A Bolt From the Past: Don Pellmann, at 100, Is Still Breaking Records
His friends Bud Held and Nadine O’Connor, also world-record holders in masters track, kept him hydrated and fresh — as well as focused. They helped make sure meet officials were ready for his raft of records.
O’Connor remarked on reactions to Pellmann: “Everyone was so patient and helpful and the congratulations were constant. Saw real smiles of admiration on so many young and old faces. It was quite touching.
“Don said he has never been treated so well in his whole life.”
Meet director and official Gary MacDonald said Pellmann was the oldest track entrant in local Senior Olympic history, easily beating 89-year-old Kio Song, who did the hammer throw in the 2013 meet.
Taking breaks under shade tents and in the fan-cooled training room, Pellmann went for 4 1/2 hours at San Diego Mesa College. He turned 100 in August, and hadn’t competed in two years.
Pellmann wore a Giants cap and multicolored swim trunks when he jumped, ran and threw — and was most thrilled to break the age-100-plus record for the 100-meter dash of 29.83 seconds by Japan’s Hidekichi Miyazaki in 2010. Pellmann ran 26.99 with a legal aiding wind of 1.1 meters per second (about 2.5 mph).
Unlike other sprinters and jumpers, he didn’t wear spiked shoes — only white tennies he called “clodhoppers” with a hole cut in one to relieve stress on a bunion. His right elbow bore a Band-Aid from a cut suffered overnight on a sharp part of the bed.
It wasn’t the most world records for Pellmann in a single meet. In 2005, at age 90, he set seven age-group records at a two-day meet in Colorado.
After the vault, Pellmann took a single long jump for his first record of the day. He followed that with the 100 and quickly the shot put, where his first (and only legal) throw with the 6.6-pound sphere was 6.56 meters (21-6 1/4).
The previous record? Italian Mario Riboni’s 5.50 meters (18-0 1/2) in 2013.
In the high jump, Pellmann cleared his first height of .70 meters (2-3 1/2) and then made .90 on his third and final try before calling it a day in that event.
Taken by cart to a field above the track, Pellmann and Held (and decathlete Chip Crowl of San Diego) were allowed to throw the discus back-to-back-to-back ahead of other entrants, who cheered the older gents.
One was Bill Harvey, nearing 70, who lent his discus to Pellmann. After the older man’s first throw set a world record, the 2.2-pound implement was whisked away to be weighed for ratification purposes. Harvey’s discus set another record.
“Heck, I may save that discus and try to throw it when I’m 100 — if I get that lucky,” said Harvey, who coached track at Occidental College for 20 years.
Three times Pellmann threw, and three times he crushed the listed world age-group record of 10.72 meters (35-2) by Japan’s Takashi Shimokawara. After opening with 12.47 meters (40-11), Pellmann threw 13.57 (44-6 1/4) and finally 14.86 (48-9).
Times writer Crouse — a former competitive swimmer who also hails from Santa Clara — sat down next to Pellmann after it was all over.
She asked: “Why do you do this?”
He answered: “Somebody has to do it.”
But the missed record stuck in Pellmann’s craw.
“It’s a poor day because I should have got that pole vault, too,” he said. “And I should have had better marks on most of these [others]. But I’m glad I got the 100 record — that’s the one I wanted the most.
“It was a real struggle, but I made it.”