Brumel: Godfather Of The Straddle Technique
Valery Brumel captivated even the enemies of his native country, the dreaded Soviet Union. My family, for example, celebrated American independence and liberty heroicly. But my father always talked about the battles between John Thomas and Brumel passionately and even celebrated Brumel.
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“Who was this Brumel character”, I wondered as a small child? Finally, one afternoon while watching TV with my father, a quick clip of Brumel high jumping flashed on the screen and disappeared. My father said, “boy, that’s the greatest high jumper who ever lived; that was Brumel”.
This, my friends, is the story of Valery Brumel.
Valery Nikolayevich Brumel entered the world on April 14, 1942, in a Siberian bush village called Tolbuzino by Lake Baikal.Embed from Getty Images
Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake, curves for nearly 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. 
As a child growing up near Lake Baikal, Brummel said:
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I remember running away from the house and wandering about the forests and swamps for hours as a child. My cherished dream then was not to break world records but to have a shotgun of my own; I pictured myself as a hunter. 
Growing up in Tolbuzino, Brumel missed the suffering of the war and stayed healthy and fit as a result. 
High Jump Introduction
In 1952, Brumel and family moved to Lugansk, Ukraine, where he first joined track and field as a fourth grader and later, the high jump at age 12 in P.T. classes. 
Brumel thought the high jump seemed like the most graceful of all the track and field events and also thought coal mining was not for him. Embed from Getty Images
Brumel talked his parents into letting him spend his vacation and summer at the Young Pioneer country camp. “The biggest track meets took place in the summertime, and that year I met Pyotr Shein, my first coach; he had seen me jumping—I wasn’t very good—and invited me to practice at the Vanguard Junior Sports Training School,” said Brumel. 
Frankly, those first real workouts were a bit disappointing to me. I thought I’d be tackling the bar from the very beginning, but Shein had me practicing gymnastics, weight lifting and cross-country running. It was boring in the beginning, you can believe me, but I grew healthier and stronger and my clearances grew higher. 
As Brumel’s career developed, he began working with a new coach, V.M. Dyachkov in Moscow. He developed a training pattern with specific feedback from Dyachkov.Embed from Getty Images
Dyachkov doesn’t keep to any set pattern, but varies practice. My workouts differ in content, length of time and tension. A half-hour practice today is followed by a two-and-a-half-hour session tomorrow. One workout is devoted to everything but jumping. I keep away from the jump pit altogether, and, instead, sweat it out with a barbell, raising, squatting and hopping with it, gradually increasing the weight.
The next practice is completely taken up with jumping. After limbering up, I clear the bar, say, at 6 feet 4¾. Dyachkov is on the sidelines, noting everything on his pad. He calls me over and we go into a huddle. He advises me to measure the run-up distance again. I resume jumping, clearing 6 feet 6¾, 6 feet 8¾, 6 feet 9½, 6 feet 11 and 7 feet. After each jump I listen to Dyachkov’s remarks. I usually don’t make any ceiling efforts in practice. My faults are reviewed at the end of the session. Dyachkov will tell me I am planting my takeoff foot too soon, or he will point out that the top of my jump is coming before it should, too far back of the bar before my belly button is over the center. 
The World Stage
Similar to fellow countryman Vladimir Yashchenko, Brumel joined the world stage as an 18 yr old. He was thrust into the 1960 Olympics where he barely lost to countryman, Robert Shavlakadze, who had fewer misses. Brumel settled for the Silver medal. This is a photo of Robert Shavlakadze below.Embed from Getty Images
Earlier in the year, Brumel broke the USSR record, 2.17 meters (7 ft 1 in), and was elected to the Olympic team. Embed from Getty Images
A high jumping legend was born and Brumel didn’t lose again until an injury in 1965.
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Perhaps Brumel’s most memorable moment came during the 1962 meet in Palo Alto, Calif., between the United States and the Soviet Union. During this time of tension between those nations, 80,000 fans packed Stanford Stadium and cheered wildly for the home team. But when Brumel set a world record of 7-5, he received a five-minute standing ovation. 
During competitions, Brumel added to his mystique by refusing to watch his rivals jump. Then he would destroy them.
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At 6ft he was by no means tall for a world-class high jumper, but his genuine speed in the run-up (he was a 10.6-second 100-metres runner), the agility that fuelled his party trick of kicking a basketball hoop from a standing jump and the muscular strength built by endless weightlifting sessions in the gym brought a new level of explosive athleticism to an event that had struggled for years to stir the imagination of any but the most committed spectators. 
Brumel could also kick a basketball rim with his feet.
Brumel lived better than other sports stars in his free time because of his celebrity. Brumel was educated at the Central Institute of Physical Culture (Moscow), graduating in 1967.
A final quote about Brumel’s style:
When Brumel was at his best, people marveled at his form, what the Russians called “pouring the body over the bar like a cascade of clear water.” This was 1964, four years before Dick Fosbury revolutionized high jumping with his “Fosbury Flop”. In the first half of the Sixties, jumpers were still doing the spin roll, and Brumel’s technique was considered one of the best.
Personal LifeEmbed from Getty Images
Brumel’s parents worked in the mining industry. His father was a coal mining engineer and his mother, a mine technician.
He had an older sister who became an electrical engineer, a younger brother who became a builder, and another brother who became a Russian politician. 
Brumel married Marina Larionova in 1963 who helped nurse his career-ending injury. She left him with a son in 1965, when Brumel was recovering from his motorcycle accident. 
In 1973 Brumel married Yelena Petushkova, an equestrian and 1972 Olympic champion in dressage. The couple divorced 18 months later citing irreconcilable differences. They had a daughter, Vlada Petushkova, born in 1974, who was raised by her mother. 
Brumel married a third time to Svetlana Belousova in 1992, who later founded and managed the Valeriy Brumel Fund. They had a son Viktor. 
Brumel liked fast cars, fast motorcycles, and fast living when he was younger which led to his career-ending injury.Embed from Getty Images
But Brumel was ambitious and wanted to be educated. He wrote:
My New Year’s resolutions are to finish my third year at the Institute with excellent marks, see some new plays in Moscow theaters, read more well-written books on various subjects and prove to my stubborn friend, Sergei Lopatin, ex-world record holder in the lightweight division of weightlifting, that I’m a better chess player than he. I also want to help young athletes. 
There was a stint as an actor in the films, Sport, Sport, Sport (1970) and The Right to Jump (1971) and wrote numerous novels and plays, including the novel, Don’t Change Yourself (1979), which was translated into seven languages, and the libretto to Rauf Hajiyev‘s operetta Golden Caravel. 
Later in life, Brumel diverted most of his energies towards achieving a doctorate in sports psychology. 
Brumel was and is known as the godfather of the straddle technique. Nobody before or after has performed the difficult jumping style better.Embed from Getty Images
In fact, he was the last great straddle jumper because Dick Fosbury introduced the new Flop style in the late 60’s.
In the straddle, the athlete aims to pass over the bar parallel to it; but some cognoscenti believe that, had Brumel been able to utilize Fosbury’s arched-back technique, which translates velocity into lift more efficiently, he might have become the first man to clear 8 ft.
The Olympians wrote in 2015:
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At the heart of Brumel’s special brand of high jumping was a sequence of carefully orchestrated moves that Nijinsky might have envied. A big, powerfully assembled man, Brumel made his run-up with an awkward-looking sprint as he shifted his elbows forward to compensate for his upper body’s gradual backward lean as he approached the bar.
He had trained with weights so that his takeoff was like the explosive uncoiling of a spring. Then, for a moment, he was flying. To clear the bar, every extremity had to be under the fine, split-second control of a bird’s primary feathers. First, the folded right leg went over, then the head, the big, friendly mouth extended in a white grimace of maximum effort. The right arm flipped back, adding thrust to bring the rest of his large body over the bar. Once the left arm cleared, the left leg kicked upward, adding dynamic balance.
Brumel believed in hard work and practice to get results; he explained his strength by saying, “the barbell and I are particular friends.” Jim Tuppeny, an American coach, said of Brumel’s quickness, ”With his speed, he is actually sailing.”
John Thomas was an American high jumper who eventually set the world record using the same straddle technique.Embed from Getty Images
Different in size than Brumel (taller), Thomas caught Brumel’s eye as a teenager. Brumel said this:
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It was at this time that I first learned about my future rival, John Thomas. I read in Soviet Sport (our sports daily) that Thomas, a 17-year-old schoolboy, had gone over the bar at 6 feet 7½. I was feeling proud of my own achievement—5 feet 8‚ Öû—and I told myself, “You’re not so hot.”
Thomas didn’t know it, but this was the beginning of our rivalry. Just two days before my 17th birthday I jumped 6 feet 6¾, and then at a meet in Moscow on Aug. 13, 1960, I leaped 7 feet 1½ to set a new European high. The jump earned me a trip to the Olympic Games in Rome. The experts, however, were unanimous in predicting a victory for Thomas. Nobody had approached his world record of 7 feet 3¾.
That’s not what happened, though. Thomas finished third in what journalists called an “accidental defeat”.
Brumel VS Thomas
Brumel and Thomas competed a few more times in highly publicized events. The press thought Thomas would win the earlier matches.
This is how the Olympics and other matches unfolded according to Brumel:
An accidental defeat,” chorused the foreign observers. We met again several months later, in February 1961, when I was invited to the U.S. for the indoor games. I took part in three meets and placed first in each of them. Thomas took second place all three times.
I felt sorry for John. The American press had shifted its tone and unleashed a torrent of abuse against their erstwhile idol. This was unfair, of course. I am most grateful for this rivalry with Thomas because it helped me so. Keen rivalry gives birth to top results. John is a great friend of mine and an outstanding athlete who has not said his last word in the high jump. His physical build is excellent, and, besides, he is most industrious. In my opinion, John has to polish his style and improve his run-up.
As Howard Schmertz, the co-meet director of the Millrose Games, said, ”Brumel against Thomas, the greatest duel ever in the Garden, and they packed the house every meet.” Embed from Getty Images
Despite the rivalry, Thomas and Brumel became great friends. Thomas even traveled to Russia and stayed at Brumel’s house many times as they were “the best of friends”. 
AchievementsEmbed from Getty Images
Brumel earned worldwide notoriety for his ability. Here’s a list of his accomplishments on the high jump runway.
- 1960 he broke the USSR record, 2.17 m (7’1″), and was selected to the Olympic team.
- 1960 Olympic Silver Medalist
- 1964 Olympic champion
- Personal Best High Jump, 2.28 m
- 1962 European Champion
- 1961 Universiade Champion
- 1963 Universiade Champion
- From 1961–1963 he broke the world record in the high jump six times, improving it from 2.23 m (7’4″) to 2.28 m (7’6″).
- His last record stood for eight years. He also broke the world indoor record twice.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and Brumel’s love of fast things ended his career.Embed from Getty Images
After going undefeated during the 1965 season, Brumel suffered multiple fractures in his right shin and right foot in a motorcycle accident and faced an amputation.Embed from Getty Images
On a late-night jaunt, riding passenger through the rainy Moscow streets on a machine driven by the Russian women’s motorcycle champion Tamara Golikova, he smashed into the ground and into a concrete lamppost; his right shin and ankle shattered.
Brumel’s right shin and ankle were shattered and had to get a leg-lengthening procedure from professor Gavriil Ilizarov. The leg was saved only by 29 operations, and for three years it remained in a cast. When he finally started climbing stairs without crutches, the leg gave way.
After more operations, he trained lightly for three months and tried jumping again. The first day, he cleared 6-6 3/4. In his first meet, he did 6-9 3/4. He never regained world-class level and retired in 1970. 
The godfather of the straddle technique, the legend who gained international fame because of his demeanor, his respect, his ability, his humility, and his good looks, died in Moscow from a prolonged illness on January 26, 2003, at age 60.Embed from Getty Images
Brumel is survived by his third wife, Svetlana, a physician; a son, Aleksandr; a stepson, Viktor; and a granddaughter.