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1924 IOC
Paris 1924

Teenager Barnes leaps to pole vault gold

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vault has developed immeasurably over the years not least in terms of equipment where the original ash poles have now been replaced by bespoke fibreglass models adapted to meet each individual athlete’s style and requirements.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

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