Legendary athlete Valery Brumel, Olympic high jump champion, will be 60 on May 14. Brumel won the gold in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics with an Olympic record—2.18 meters. From 1961-1971, Brumel broke many world records in the high jump and in 1961, 1962 and 1963 was named best sportsman in the world, earning him a spot in the Guiness Book of World Records. Brumel’s arch-rival was American John Thomas, whom Brumel beat many times, including at a 1963 USSR-US track & field match-up. There, Brumel set his sixth world record of 2 m 28 cm—a record which lasted for eight years.
Yet, at the peak of his fame, Brumel injured his leg badly when his motorcycle collided with an automobile. He recovered from the accident, but had to quit professional sports. Meanwhile, his wife and many of his friends shamelessly abandoned him. In his memoir, Height, published in 1971, Brumel counted just 15 people who didn’t turn their backs on him in his time of need.
Today, Brumel’s life is much brighter: he has a new family and his son Viktor, 9, loves jumping. And the Moscow Track & Field Association regularly holds a prestigious high jump competition in the capital where competitors vie for “The Brumel Prize.” At one recent tournament, host Valery Brumel greeted his former rival John Thomas. After a friendly hug, the two went on to reminisce about competitions gone by.
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