Having weathered a bout of COVID-19 in December (suffering persistent fatigue), the Olympian packed 20 more pounds than last summer, when he did 5,000 push-ups for a fundraiser.
At the California State Games at University City High School, the Carlsbad resident stunned even himself by breaking the listed world record in the high jump for his 65-69 age group.
He started at 1.40 meters (4 feet 7), taking his usual three-step approach and clearing with the old straddle style (as opposed to the back-to-the-bar Fosbury flop). With no other masters athletes still in the competition, he soon jumped 1.55 and 1.60 (5-1 and 5-3).
Then he said: “Let’s just go. Let’s get this thing over with. Let’s just put it up to 1.70” — 5-7, which would top the 21-year-old national record of 1.66 — 5-5 1/4 — held by North County’s Phil Fehlen — another straddler.
“I jumped over that (on first try),” he said. “Then I asked somebody: What’s the world record?”
Someone eventually found 1.73 (5-8) in the record books, so Banks asked the bar be raised to 1.75 (5-8 3/4). He missed all three tries, slipping at least once.
“I had one good attempt,” he said. “You know me. I don’t [use] spikes. I just jump. I failed and said OK, at least that’s a national record.”
But another jumper said: “No, that’s a world record. The indoor record is 1.73. … You jumped the world record today,” bettering the 1.67 mark by Slovenia’s Dusan Prezelj in 2014.
Thus a surprised William Augustus Banks III learned he was now the best outdoor high jumper in history over 65.
Lewis Jackson jumped against Banks Sunday and said his mark at 65 years old was pretty darn impressive.
“I oughta know as I’m 66 and went out at 1.3M before Willie started!” he said. “Another strong masters jumper who’s a few years younger than Wille and I went out at 1.45.
Yes, watching Willie do a good old fashion western roll was great fun and super impressive. … Willie’s three strides to the bar, a strong kick with his lead right leg and a roll over the bar was textbook circa 1968 back when sawdust landing pits were still being used!”
Banks — who in 1985 set a world record in the triple jump — says high jump was his first love. At Jefferson Middle School in Oceanside, he first saw his hero — Jerry Culp of Oceanside High School. In 1970, Culp was the first San Diego County prep to clear 7 feet. Using the straddle.
He eventually was tutored by Culp’s coach — Tom Shields. And at UCLA, he became a star in what once was called the hop, step and jump. On the European circuit, he created the rhythmic clapping heard in stadiums worldwide.
But not in Tokyo. Not this year.
“I’m a very emotional jumper,” he said Monday in a phone interview. “And I think that having no fans would just about kill me.”
But no athlete at Tokyo would say their medal or participation was any less valuable with nobody in the stands, he said.
“They may say it was a different experience, and maybe not one that they enjoyed. But they’ll still be Olympians,” he said.
There he’ll try to raise the bar on the sport’s future.
He’s the chair of a World Athletics working group devising a strategy to grow athletics into the top three participation sports in the world. (Soccer is first; second is still debated.)
“We will be putting out a document that will go to council for information on the 28th and 29th [of July],” he said.
Then he’ll make a presentation at the end of the year to track officials from around the world. “Hopefully, the General Assembly will vote to accept the plan,” he said. “And then we will implement the plan.”
Among other things gleaned from 25,000 survey responses and input from 80-85% of member national federations was “No. 1, we have to … be in the schools. … We also have to be innovative. Create new ways of presenting our sport.”
With the motto of making the world fitter, he said, World Athletics hopes to show potential sponsors that “partnering with us will be an economic boon for them.”
Banks will leave his Nagoya-born wife, Hitomi, at home. (She’ll visit her Japanese kin this fall after everyone is vaccinated.) But he’ll be busy as a member of the track meet’s Jury of Appeals.
In September, he aims to compete again, hoping to shed some of his current 215 pounds with a better diet and continued Zumba exercise.
He also will correct his slipping-with-sneakers error.
“I’ll order those spikes this weekend,” he said.