top of page

Scandinavian Somersault?

I was surrounded by an eclectic group of people on my University of Iowa track team in the early 70'. Coach Cretzmeyer, the head coach, competed in the 220 yd low hurdles and long jump alongside Jesse Owens at the famous 1935 Big Ten meet on Michigan's Ferry Field where the Ohio State great broke 3 World Records and tied a fourth.

Cretz also broke the 220H record, but crossed the line 0.3 behind Jesse.

Assistant coach Ted Wheeler, a unique African-American mid-distance runner in the 1950's, he was an All-American in cross country and track for Iowa, and competed in the 1500m at the 1956 Olympics. Another was Jim Foster, a teammate who ran the steeplechase, he founded and was the first commissioner of the Arena Football League - an idea we talked about on many a long run.

But the person who sticks out in my mind the most was teammate Dave Nielsen, a full-time pole vaulter and a part-time Swedish daredevil who was a good enough athlete to compete successfully in the decathlon. He was an All-American in the PV and won a Big Ten title with the fiberglass pole, his gymnastic background a talent which contributed to the success.

Did I mention he was paid to jump off a 20' ladder to test out new PV pits?

Dave could easily perform a standing back flip and worked hard to perfect a front flip off the ground - not an easy task, or particularly safe stunt without gymnastic mats. So a teammate suggested he try it into the long jump pit. Dave took a short jog and flipped into the sand. Piece of cake. Hmmm.

What if I ran faster?

So he back up even more and tried it again. Even further. Eventually he produced a mark of 22'6", a performance good enough that it might place at the Big Ten meet. But before he was able to perfect the technique the IAAF banned the style, claiming it was too dangerous to perform. Dang it!

And so that was that. Gold medalist Perry O'Brien gave his name to the back-facing style in the shot put and Dick Fosbury the Flop, the current technique in the high jump. But one thing that still bothers me out today is...

Dave never got the technique named after him. Bummer.

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page