San Diego May See First 100-Year-Old Pole Vaulter

The Better Part – Senior Olympics Champion



Don Pellmann of Santa Clara turned 100 in mid-August and plans a trip to San Diego later this month. But he won’t be kicking back.

More like kicking butt.


Pellmann, who holds seven world age-group records in track and field, has entered six events at the San Diego Senior Olympics on Sunday, Sept. 20. If all goes well, he could become the first centenarian to record a height in the pole vault. And the high jump. And the long jump.

At San Diego Mesa College, Pellmann also will try the 100-meter dash, shot put and discus — where age-group records are in jeapordy.

“If my fitness is as it has been recently, I should do OK,” Pellmann recently wrote a friend. “Maybe, maybe not — but worth a shot, I think.”

World Masters Athletics — the global governing body of adult age-group track and field — keeps outdoor and indoor records in five-year groups, ending with 100-and-over. But this year, for the first time, a Polish athlete recorded marks at age 105.

Pellmann is no rookie at multi-record attempts, however. At a two-day meet in September 2005, 90-year-old Pellmann set seven world records — plus an American record in the triple jump. (See photos.)

Pellmann says he’s been running the 100 in 27 seconds — well under the listed 100-104 record of 29.83 by Japan’s Hidekichi Miyazaki. “This is my main aim and concern,” Pellmann said. “I will concentrate on this one.”

He also hopes to high-jump 1 meter (3 feet 3 1/4 inches), pole-vault 3-6, long-jump 8-10 feet and throw the 2.2-pound discus 60 feet. The listed world record is 35-2. He has thrown the 6.6-pound shot 24 feet in practice. The listed record? A fraction over 18 feet.


“Not many athletes who live to be 100 are still able to compete,” said his friend Bud Held — a 1952 Olympian and former world record holder in the javelin, also a masters athlete. “Many of us still in our 70s and 80s marvel at Don’s ability.”

According to, Pellmann last competed in May 2013 at age 97. In recent years, he’s been focusing on the health of his wife, Marge.

Originally from Milwaukee, Pellmann retired from a General Motors subsidiary in 1972 and moved the family to Mountain Home, Arkansas. About 15 years ago, he moved to California, his son said.

“To keep in shape, he walks quite a bit,” Ned Pellmann said. “And when he can, he practices some of the running, jumping and throwing events in a local park since he has no access to a track and most schools will not let him practice PV and HJ due to liability concerns.”

The elder Pellmann watches his weight diligently, Ned told Times of San Diego via email.

“In their previous senior living complex, he would periodically use the exercise room to lift some weights and use the workout machines,” his son said. “In his youth, he was a gymnast and belonged to the Milwaukee Turners Gymnastic Club” and took part in the all-around events, “which contributed to his strength and coordination.”

He worked in a factory/machine shop and was very handy, Ned said, almost singlehandedly building their first home outside Milwaukee.


His track career as a youth was cut short by the Depression.

At LaCrosse State Techers College (now University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse), he was on the track team for a year, but had to drop out to work in the mid-1930s.

“He was a downhill skier and also ski-jumped at some of the smaller local hills in Wisconsin,” Ned said “He was a very good bowler and played slow-pitch softball.”

His family encouraged him to enter a senior track meet in 1985, and he went on to win at regional and national levels.

“To date, he has over 850 medals and blue ribbons for his events and 99+ percent of them for first-place performances,” his son said. “I am aware of less than 10 times he has not won his age group. The thing he is most proud of is that he competes in running, throwing and jumping events — not just a single event.”

Never having suffered a major injury or illness, Pellmann benefited from what his son called a combination of great genes and good luck. And courage: He sky-dived at 90.

A PBS documentary titled “Over 90 and Loving It” features Pellmann from about 1:50 through the end and includes footage of him pole vaulting.

The oldest vaulter on record appears to be the late Ralph Maxwell, who cleared 4-8 1/4 in 2011 at age 91 years, 8 months. Dr. William Bell, father of three-time Olympian Earl Bell, was 91 years, 4 months in 2013 when he jumped a world record 6-8¾ at a national championships in Olathe, Kansas.

In March 2014, Leland McPhie of San Diego competed at age 100 in the USA Track & Field national masters indoor championships in Boston. He entered four events, mainly throws, but didn’t clear a height in the high jump.

McPhie, San Diego’s oldest retired sheriff’s deputy, is not expected to compete at Mesa College.




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