No one had soared higher than Washington native, Brian Sternberg, pole vaulting to a world record height of 16ft 8 inches (5.08 m) on June 7, 1963. A sure lock to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Sternberg’s plan for glory went awry. As part of his training, Sternberg was working out on a routine technique on the trampouline, one he had done many times before. This time he landed awkwardly on his neck, resulting in paralysis and leaving him a quadriplegic.
Texan, Fred Hansen eventually went on win the gold medal in pole vaulting in Tokyo, jumping only three quarters of an inch higher than Sternberg’s best jump. Not only were he and his fellow pole vaulting teammates beneficiaries from a special fund of $2,500 contributed by the Washington Athletic Club in Sternberg’s honor, which paid for their expenses to Tokyo, Hansen said he learned how to be a better pole vaulter from Sternberg. “Brian helped me out with several things I was doing wrong when he was the world’s best,” Hansen said (in an October 18, 1964 article in The Seattle Times). “The only thing that could make me happier at this moment would be if he were here too.”