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01 Sep 1972
Munich 1972

High jumper Meyfarth leaps to individual age record

Athletics Femmes

In Mexico, four years before, the women's high jump had produced a surprise winner in the shape of Miloslave Režková, just 18 years old and inspired to produce a performance that dwarfed anything she had achieved before. Few imagined anything could follow that, and they were wrong. Instead, there was an even bigger surprise in the shape of the West German schoolgirl Ulrike Meyfarth.

Meyfarth was 16 years old but already 1.85m tall, an athletic figure who appeared a good prospect for the future. The year before she had placed second in the West German championships, and in 1972 she finished in third place in the national trials. She had adopted the style of Dick Fosbury – the so-called “Fosbury Flop” that had first come to public attention in the Mexico City Olympic Games of 1968, but her personal best was only 1.85m, and few expected her to challenge for a medal at such a young age, and with so little experience.

Instead, she rose to the occasion, cheered on by the home crowd. She jumped 1.92cm, breaking her own personal best and equalling the World Record. Her nearest rival was Yordanka Blagoyeva, whose luck failed her when she appeared to clear with one of her final jumps – but as Blagoyeva put her tracksuit back on, the bar wobbled and fell off, obliging the judges to call it as a miss.

Meyfarth became the youngest winner of an individual athletics event in Olympic history. After that, her career stagnated for a decade until she returned, spectacularly, setting a new world record of 2.02m, some 10cm higher than her previous record. A year later, she jointly extended that mark to 2.03m and in Los Angeles in 1984 won Olympic gold once more with a leap of 2.02m in the final. Having once set the record for being the youngest champion, she was now, at 28, the oldest person to win the Olympic High Jump.

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