Bob Seagren competed during an era when the capabilities of fibreglass poles were still being explored, which resulted in frequent revisions to the world pole vault record. Seagren was one of the key contributors to these revisions, and he set his first world record of 5.30m at Fresno on 14 May 1966. Bob lost this record to John Pennel (USA) two months later, but reclaimed it when he cleared 5.36m on 10 June 1967.
Seagren competed at White City on 12 August that year in the Britain v USA international match, where he won the pole vault with a clearance of 5.20m. Seagren set his third world record of 5.41m at the 1968 US Olympic Games in Echo Summit only five weeks before the Olympic Games in Mexico City.
In the final at Mexico, Seagren was lying second after clearing 5.30m, when he sensationally decided to pass at 5.35m. Many observers considered this to be a dangerous but tactical gamble by Seagren, but it later transpired that he only passed due to his unfamiliarity with the metric system. In the end, Seagren’s ‘error’ may have contributed to his winning the gold medal, as he and Claus Schiprowski (Germany) both cleared 5.40m on their second attempts, but Seagren was proclaimed the winner as he had fewer total misses in the competition. Seagren set his final world record of 5.63m at the 1972 Olympic Trials in Eugene on 2 July.
He was involved in a controversy at the Olympic Games in Munich when the IAAF banned the new model of Cata-Poles, which a number of vaulters, including Seagren, had been using, on the eve of the qualifying round. Forced to qualify and compete with a borrowed pole, Seagren performed admirably to win the silver medal with a clearance of 5.40m.
by: Ron Casey