Due to the pressures of competition and variable weather conditions, it is not often that a vertical jumper achieves a personal best at an Olympic Games, which makes pole vaulter Claus Schiprowski’s feat of improving his best performance five times at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics quite exceptional, and possibly unique in Olympic history.
Schiprowski had not cleared 5 metres prior to 1968, but slight improvements on his heights and third placings at both the West German indoor and outdoor national championships gained him a ticket to that year’s Olympics. Besides his European season, which included competing in an international meet at Crystal Palace, London on 24 August, Claus finished off his pre-Olympic preparation in the USA, setting a personal best of 5.18m (17ft) at Flagstaff on 29 September.
In the Olympic final held on 16 October, the unheralded Schiprowski improved his newly established personal best to 5.20m with a first clearance, but with nine vaulters still in the competition at that height, he seemed well out of his depth. However, Claus continued scaling new heights, clearing 5.25m, 5.30m and then 5.35m, at which stage there were five men left in the competition and Claus was lying in third position.
When only Schiprowski, Bob Seagren (USA) and Wolfgang Nordwig (East Germany) were able to clear the next height of 5.40m, Claus suddenly found himself assured of an Olympic medal. None of the three were successful at the final height of 5.45m, and the victory went to Seagren on a count back, with Schiprowski picking up the silver medal and Nordwig the bronze.
Claus never again came close to vaulting any of these heights. His best performance in 1969 was 5.00m, and he disappeared from the international scene soon afterwards.
by: Ron Casey