Sternberg Reached New Heights In 1963

Celebrating A Century of NCAA Track & Field Championships

Sternberg Reached New Heights In 1963

June 15, 1963

Pole vaulting entered a new era in the early 1960s.

Fiberglass poles had become commonplace and vaulters around the world were finding ways to harness the improvement in technology from the previous poles made of aluminum or steel.

This was plainly evident by the 1963 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at University Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

No collegian had yet cleared 16-0 (4.88m) when the calendar turned to 1963, but by the time of the 1963 NCAA meet seven had done so.

The most dominant collegian was Washington sophomore Brian Sternberg, who in the span of six weeks set three world records, the highest at 16-8 (5.08m) and even had the first attempts at 17-0 (5.18m). His first WR – also the world’s first 5-meter vault of 16-5 – still makes him the youngest WR holder in the event at age 19.

In the 1963 NCAA meet Sternberg’s Husky teammate, John Cramer, was the first to get over 15-9¾ (4.82m), a PR which equaled the meet record set by Bob Gutwoski of Occidental in 1957 – when the height was a WR that bettered that of legendary Dutch Warmerdam, himself king of the previous bamboo-pole era.

Four more vaulters, including Sternberg, joined Cramer over 15-9¾, making the 1963 NCAA pole vault the first – and still only – meet with five male vaulters over a meet record.

Only Sternberg could negotiate the meet’s first 16-footer at 16-0¾ (4.90m) – a height he needed to actually take the lead, let alone win – and then the first 5-meter clearance at 16-4¾ (5.00m). He was ever-so-close on a third attempt at a WR 16-9½ (5.12m).

One of the sport’s saddest moments came less than a month later. In early July, Sternberg suffered a paralyzing injury in a trampoline exercise, ironic in that he was also a two-time UW letter winner in gymnastics and he had done the move – a “full in fliffis” – many times before.

The injury came three days before he was set to travel to Moscow for the US-USSR dual meet during the days of the Cold War. Soviet meet officials honored him with a medal given to every winner in the meet, and one of the support letters Sternberg received came from President John F. Kennedy.

posted: February 21, 2021
The NCAA's First Championships

The NCAA and collegiate track & field will mark a momentous milestone in the spring of 2021 -- the 100th anniversary of the NCAA Championships and with that, the NCAA Track & Field Championships. In June 1921, the University of Chicago hosted the first track & field championships in NCAA history.

This point can’t be emphasized enough: Not only was the event the first for NCAA track & field, but the first championships for any sport under the sponsorship of the NCAA.

To celebrate, over each of the next 365 days, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) will celebrate moments, student-athletes, and coaches that have made a century’s worth of championships special. From humble beginnings to important historical milestones to the modern-day, collegiate track & field has evolved with the American society.

The 2021 edition of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships begin with preliminary round action on May 27-29 in Jacksonville, Fla., and College Station, Texas. The championships final site and culmination of the celebration is slated for June 9-12, 2021 at the newly rebuilt Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Memorable Moments
Greene Came Up Clutch In 1989 Long Jump
June 2, 1989

One of Joe Greene’s best days of long jumping started off dismally. It would end with a victory in one of the most memorable competitions in the near 100-year history of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Cal’s Williams Set World Record In 1936
June 20, 1936

Archie Williams set a world record in the 400 of 46.1 in the heats of the 1936 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships. Williams then won the NCAA title by just 0.1 seconds!

Sternberg Reached New Heights In 1963
June 15, 1963

Brian Sternberg won the pole vault title at the 1963 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. He was the first athlete to clear 16 feet in meet history at 4.97m (16-3¾).

Kimobwa Ran Into Record Book In 1977
June 3, 1977

Samson Kimobwa set a MR in the 10K of 28:10.27 at the 1977 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships. He won by 12.21 seconds in a race that saw the top-2 finishers under previous meet record.