A dominant athlete and talented coach, Cornelius “Dutch” Warmerdam first earned a reputation as the greatest pole vaulter of his time before turning his talents to heading the track & field program at his alma mater, Fresno State University.
As an athlete, Warmerdam’s record is quite possibly without equal in terms of his dominance of an event. Warmerdam was a self-taught vaulter who used a bamboo pole before beginning his intercollegiate career at Fresno State in the 1930s under fellow USTFCCCA Hall of Fame coach J. Flint Hanner. At Fresno State, Warmerdam achieved a personal best of 14′-1″ before graduating in 1938, but his greatest success was yet to come.
Warmerdam earned a master’s degree from Stanford University, and in 1940, he became the first person to vault 15 feet. He cleared the height another 43 times in his career and raised the world record to 15′-7″ outdoors and 15′-8″ indoors; not one other competitor was able to clear 15 feet during Warmerdam’s entire professional career, and his outdoor record stood for 15 years. Warmerdam won or tied for nine national titles and won the Sullivan Award in 1942 as the nation’s top amateur athlete. Only World War II prevented Warmerdam from participating in Olympic competition; in 1944, he retired from vaulting to serve as a naval officer, and in 1947, he turned his attention to coaching, a move that disqualified him from any further amateur competition.
Initially working as an assistant coach under Hanner, Warmerdam took over as head coach in 1960 when Hanner retired and held that position until 1980. During his tenure, Fresno State won four national team titles and an NCAA Division II title. Warmerdam also coached 21 All Americans, two NCAA individual champions, and two Olympians, and he served as a coach on the Pan American Games staffs in 1963 and 1967. He also coached basketball at Fresno State from 1947-53.
Warmerdam is a member of several halls of fame, including the USATF Hall of Fame and the Millrose Games Hall of Fame, and Fresno State named its track stadium Warmerdam Field in his honor. Warmerdam was named the Pole Vaulter of the Century by USATF in 2000.