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27 Jul 2015
IOC News

High-jumper Ulrike Meyfarth: “It felt like a movie”

By winning gold as a 16-year-old at Munich 1972 and topping the podium again in Los Angeles 12 years later, West Germany’s Ulrike Meyfarth became both the youngest Olympic women’s high jump champion and the oldest. In the latest instalment of our Words of Olympians series, she reflects on that unique distinction and an amazing career.

Born on 4 May 1956 in Frankfurt/Main, Ulrike Meyfarth took up the high jump at a young age, starting out in the event at around the same time as Dick Fosbury was showcasing his famous “flop”, which won him gold at Mexico City 1968.

The West German jumper was a mere 16 years old when she qualified for the Munich Olympics with a personal best of 1.85m. Explaining her feelings in the lead-up to final, she says: “I was so relaxed. I didn’t want to win. I just wanted to take part. I was naïve and not a developed athlete. I was new on the scene.”

One of seven competitors to go clear at 1.85m in the final, the teenager then jumped 1.88m at her first attempt to set up a showdown for the gold medal with Bulgaria’s Yordanka Blagoeva.

When the bar was raised a further two centimetres, Meyfarth cleared it at the second time of asking to seal the gold and become the youngest ever Olympic champion in her sport. She gave an ecstatic Munich crowd even more to cheer about when she cleared 1.92m at the first attempt to equal the then world record.

©Getty Images

“It was very special because it was at home,” she says, looking back on that magical day. “All the Germans in the stadium were standing behind me, crying behind me. It was like a film. I was standing beside me, looking at this film, at the sign. My name was coming up more and more. I was so surprised and didn’t expect it. I was lucky to be able to stay there and making my first international experience.

“I was very proud. That’s the moment you work for. It’s only a few seconds in your life but they are important and they are decisive in your life.”

Meyfarth failed to build on her stunning Olympic triumph in the years that followed, only rediscovering her form in 1982. After setting a new world record of 2.02m in Athens in September that year, she took it one centimetre higher in London 11 months later, while also collecting a silver at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 and earning a place on the West Germany team for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

That Olympic women’s long jump final in LA came down to a duel between Meyfarth and reigning champion Sara Simeoni of Italy, who were the only athletes to clear 2.00m at the first attempt. Meyfarth then jumped 2.02m, a feat the Italian could not match, allowing the German to collect a second gold to add to the one she had won 12 years earlier and become the oldest Olympic champion in the event.

“Many years after my Olympic gold medals I now realise what I did, with my gold medals in 1972 and 1984,” adds Meyfarth, reflecting on the unique place she occupies in Olympic history. “It was a special career. No one did it like this.”

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