Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Athletics-Soviet high-jump champion Brumel dies

MOSCOW, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Former Soviet high jump champion Valery Brumel who held the world record for 10 years in the 1960s and early 1970s died on Sunday after a long illness, Russian news agencies and television said.

Brumel, 60, who died in a Moscow hospital, was best known for his Cold War duels against the American John Thomas-- the "Boston Grasshopper" -- at a time when rivalry between the then superpowers was as intense on the track as it was in world politics.

Brumel burst on to the world sports scene at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960 when he took the silver with a jump of 2.16 metres, pipped only by his more experienced Soviet team mate Robert Shavlakadze, who both broke Thomas's world record.

He went back home and through a punishing schedule and rigorous self-discipline established himself as one of the leading Soviet athletes of the day.

He broke the world record six times in the early 1960s -- his record leap of 2.28 metres in 1963 lasting for eight years.

For three straight years from 1961 he was voted the world's best athlete and at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 he took the gold with 2.18 metres after the closest of duels with his old rival, Thomas.

Disaster struck in October 1965 when he sustained severe leg injuries in a motorbike accident that effectively ended his professional career.

On crutches for three years without hope of recovery, he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when he met pioneering orthopedic surgeon Gavril Ilizarov whose revolutionary treatment helped him back to training.

Though he never made world standard again he fought his way back to competitive athletics at home and went on to clear 2.07 metres even while incurring another serious leg injury along the way.

In later years he took up a writing career, co-authoring a novel, a play and an opera libretto based on his own life story.

Despite their past rivalry, Brumel and Thomas were good friends and the two staged a reunion in Moscow several years ago.

Back to the Top    Next Issue