The Games in Munich brought an end to one of the longest winning streaks that Olympic Athletics has known. Competitors from the United States had won every pole vault competition since the Modern Games began in 1896, but in 1972 the streak came to an end as East Germany's Wolfgang Nordwig soared to victory.
Nordwig had one great advantage. He had never enjoyed using a new model of pole, known as the Cata-pole, which had been adopted by almost all leading pole vaulters. It had come to dominate the sport in recent months, but was then outlawed on the eve of the Games to the chagrin of most of his rivals. While they had to hastily revert to poles they had not used, and had not wanted to use, for a while, Nordwig simply carried on as he always had done – same pole, same technique, unbroken preparation.
Nordwig was no outsider, having won a bronze medal in the 1968 Games in Mexico, but the front-runners were believed to be America's Bob Seagren and Sweden's Kjell Isaksson. The Swede, though, could not come to terms with the change in equipment and failed to clear the qualifying height.
It came down to a battle between Nordwig, Seagren and another American, Jan Johnson. All three cleared at 5.35m, although Johnson took until his third effort, and could not improve on that height. That left the German and the American to fight for the gold medal.
At 5.40m, Nordwig cleared on his second leap, while Seagren took until his third, and when the bar reached 5.45m, the contest was over – Nordwig cleared with his first attempt but Seagren couldn't follow his example. For good measure, Nordwig then cleared at 5.50m to establish a new Olympic record.
It was to be the last Olympic Games for both men, but not the end of competition. Seagren became a profession sportsman, entering and winning the first series of the TV series “Superstars”.