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Barnes leaps to gold at 17

Barnes leaps to gold at 17

04/07/1924

At the tender age of just 17, American Lee Barnes went to the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris with minimal expectations.

He was barely out of school and did not have the established collegiate career that many of his fellow American competitors had accrued by the time they arrived in France.

However the prodigious athlete from Salt Lake City rose to the occasion in technically the most difficult of all athletics events.

The pole vault has developed immeasurably over the years not least in terms of equipment where the original ash poles have now been replaced by bespoke fibreglass models adapted to meet each individual athlete’s style and requirements. 

At the 1924 Games the athletes were threatening to break through the four metre barrier using poles that gave them barely any elevation or bend, before landing in a shallow sand pit to break their fall.

Barnes and three other American vaulters qualified for the seven-man final, and unlike many of the other field events in Paris, the elite few improved significantly in the final.

Leaps of 12 feet (3.65 metres) had been sufficient to qualify for the medal battle, but only efforts of almost 13 feet (3.96metres) would be enough to earn a place on the podium.

Barnes and fellow Americans James Brooker and Glen Graham dominated the competition and the outcome came down to the narrowest of margins.

Barnes, who later went on to become a stunt double for Hollywood actor Buster Keaton, finally prevailed in a jump-off against Graham with a winning height of 12ft 11ins (3.93 metres).

He would clear exactly the same height four years later in the Olympic final in Amsterdam but that would only be good enough for fifth place.

Discover the best photos of Paris 1924

  • Johnny Weissmuller (USA)

    A part of Hollywood legend for his role as Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was nonetheless an accomplished swimmer. At the Paris 1924 Games, he won gold in the 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay. We see him here after his 400m freestyle surrounded by his fellow medal-winners, Sweden’s Arne Borg (2nd, on the right) and the USA’s Andrew Charlton (3rd, on the left)
    ©IOC

  • Paavo Nurmi (FIN)

    Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals at the Paris 1924 Games. He won the individual cross country, team cross country, the 1500m, 5000m and the team 3000m events. On 10 July 1924, he won the 1500m before victoriously taking gold, 55 minutes later (!) in the 5000m

    ©IOC

  • Winner’s medal Paris 1924

    The reverse of the medal is occupied by the representation of an athlete helping one of his opponents to stand. This motif thus perfectly illustrates the solidarity that we expect from any athletes taking part in the Olympic Games. Besides this, the Olympic rings appear for the first time on a medal (they are visible here on the upper part of the medal)
    ©IOC

  • Liddell Chaired

    18th July 1924: Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945), winner of the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics, is paraded around Edinburgh University after his victory. He was known as the 'Flying Scotsman' and was immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire. (Photo by Firmin/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • Liddell Triumphant

    18th July 1924: Scottish athlete Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945) is paraded around Edinburgh University after winning the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite t

  • Eric Liddell

    Scottish athlete and missionary, Eric Henry Liddell (1902 -1945) being carried round the streets after his Olympic victory. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite to win the 100 metres race but refused to run because he felt that running on a Sunday conflicted with his Christian beliefs. He won a bronze medal in the 200 metres event instead and then ran the 400 metre race despite having little experience at the distance. He not only won the gold medal but broke the world record by completing the race in 47.6 seconds, an achievement which is celebrated in the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'. Liddell gained two degrees, one in science and the other in divinity, before leaving Britain to work as a Scottish Congregational Church missionary in China as his parents had before him. Original Publication: People Disc - HG0205 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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