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01 Sep 1960
Rome 1960

Shavlakadze ends anglophone dominance in high jump

The USA’s John Thomas came arrived in Rome as the overwhelming favourite to win the men’s high jump. He hadn't lost a contest for two years and had jumped over seven feet some 30 times. The question seemed to be more about who would take silver, with Thomas’ team-mates Joe Faust and defending champion Charley Dumas both hotly tipped to join him on the podium.

However, sure-fire predictions ahead of an Olympic Games are a risky pursuit. The anticipated American dominance of the podium never transpired, with both Faust and Dumas hampered by injuries. Neither of them even made the top five and it was down to Thomas to fight for the gold against a trio of jumpers from the Soviet Union.

The Soviet champion was Viktor Bolshov, who was in confident mood. Alongside him was the prodigious 18-year-old Valery Brumel and 27-year-old Robert Shavlakadze.

All four jumpers were in contention as the bar went above seven feet (2.13m), which was then considered the benchmark of great jumping. Brumel and Bolshov missed but Shavlakadze cleared with his first attempt. It was the first time he had ever gone clear at seven feet in a competition.

Thomas missed with his first attempt, but he and the other two Soviet athletes cleared second time around.

The bar moved up an inch and, once again, Shavlakadze cleared with his first effort. Brumel cleared on his second jump, but both Bolshov and Thomas failed. Shavlakadze and Brumel both then tried, and failed, to clear 2.18m, leaving the former to take gold, and the latter the silver. Thomas won the bronze leaving Bolshov to settle for fourth.

The three men on the podium had all beaten the Olympic record, and would each return to the Olympic arena four years later in Tokyo were they all finished in the top five.

There was another notable element to Shavlakadze's gold medal. It was a victory that marked the end of a long period of domination by English-speaking high jumpers that had extended back over all 14 previous editions of the Games to 1896.

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