The two best jumpers in 1972 were defending champion Bob Seagren and Sweden’s Kjell Isaksson. But also highly considered was 1968 bronze medalist Wolfgang Nordwig (GDR), who had won the 1966, 1969, and 1971 European Championships. Seagren and Isaksson were using the new Cata-Pole.
But on 25 July the IAAF declared that pole to be illegal. The protest against the pole was lodged by the East Germans – Nordwig did not use that pole – based on the fact that it contained carbon fibers. When it was pointed out that the pole did not contain carbon fibers, and that IAAF rules did not specify any material prohibitions on poles, the IAAF banned it anyway because the equipment had not been available to all competitors for the past 12 months.
It was also noted to the IAAF that their rules had no such requirement. Then on 27 August, the ban on the poles was lifted and it was announced they would be allowed. However, three days later, the IAAF again reversed itself and reinstated the ban on the poles, confiscating them from the pole vaulters rooms in the Olympic Village. (Obviously, Olympic officials in 1972 were more concerned with what was in the rooms of the Olympic Village than providing security for the place.)
In the competition, Isaksson was severely hampered by the rule change and did not clear a height in qualifying. At 5.30 (17-4½), four vaulters were left in the competition – Nordwig and Reinhard Kuretzky (FRG) clearing that height, while Seagren and Jan Johnson passed to 5.35 (17-6½).
Kuretzky went out at 5.35, with Nordwig and Seagren getting first attempt clearances. Johnson went over on his third effort and would do no better, winning the bronze medal. At 5.40 (17-8½), Nordwig cleared on his second attempt and Seagren on his third. But Seagren missed 5.45 (17-10½) while Nordwig won the gold medal at that height, and went on to get over 5.50 (18-0½) as well. Seagren’s world record was 5.63 (18-5½) and he was incensed by how he had been manipulated by the officials.
After his last vault, he took the pole he had been forced to vault with and handed it back to IAAF President Adrian Paulen.