Senior Olympians Break Barriers
Boo Morcom is one of a growing number of athletes still setting records and winning medals. SPORTS: MASTERS EVENTS
WILMOT FLAT, N.H.
BOO Morcom may have taken a back seat to Bob Richards in their Olympic pole-vaulting days, but no more. ``I crunch him now!'' says the trim, athletic-looking 68-year-old, his eyes sparkling as he savors a rivalry that began in the 1940s and has continued through the various stages of masters and senior competition. ``He hasn't got any of my records.''Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, while he finished sixth in the 1948 Olympics (``one of the very, very, very few disappointments in my life''), Morcom has been making up for it ever since. By his own estimate, he has set 200 or so world or American age-group records over the years in a broad spectrum of events. The pole vault is still his big one, but he has also won national championships or broken records (or both) in the pentathlon, the decathlon, and various individual events ranging from the long and high jumps to the 800-meter run.
Just a couple of weeks ago, in fact, Morcom cleared 10 ft. 6 in. to set a world record for his age, then raised the mark twice more on the same day with vaults of 11 feet and 11-5. And he hopes to keep it up at this week's US National Senior Olympics in St. Louis, where he is also competing in the high and long jumps, the javelin, the discus, and the 400-meters.
The Senior Olympics (see accompanying story) provide an opportunity for thousands of individuals 55 and over to compete in a multi-sport extravaganza at differing levels of intensity. Some approach it on a lower-key level, but there are also those - like Boo - whose competitive fires continue to burn strongly.
``I remember somebody asked me last time if I was there for the social aspects,'' he said during a recent interview at his home in this small town nestled into the northwest corner of Mt. Kearsarge, 33 miles north of Concord. ``I said, `No, I came here to smite people! There's room for all of us, but I came here to really try to do something.'''
He did, too, winning gold medals in the vault, the long jump, and the high jump, and competing just as hard in other events where he knew his chances weren't as good.
``I'm not afraid to go out and get whomped,'' he says. ``People like to say, `I beat Boo.' That doesn't bother me.''
Richmond Morcom was born and grew up in Braintree, Mass., where he picked up his nickname as a youngster (it was short for Bubi, a popular German doll). He intended to go by ``Richie'' when he went away to the University of New Hampshire, but some old friends were there and the nickname stayed with him.
Boo's affinity for the pole vault also began early - when he was just 10 years old.
``I was too small for sports like football and basketball,'' he says. ``A friend introduced me to pole vaulting, and he beat me. I took it as a challenge, began practicing in my back yard, and never let go.''
He began by building a runawy and vaulting with a little wooden flagpole, which he actually competed with in high school. Thus he has vaulted over the years on just about every type of pole in the evolution of equipment - from wood, to bamboo, to Swedish steel, to plastic, to fiberglass, to today's carbon fiber-reinforced poles.
HE'S also had plenty of big moments in a long and distinguished athletic career - starting in the late 1930s when he vaulted barefoot in a rainstorm at one high-school meet and cleared 11-1.
``Most kids were doing 9 or 10 feet in those days, to it attracted attention,'' he recalls. ``It got me my first headline, which is a thrill you never can duplicate. You're young, trying to be noticed, to be somebody - and now suddenly in your mind everybody on the [suburban Boston] South Shore knows who you are.''