Ninety-six years ago on Sunday — March 15, 1924 — University of Illinois pole vaulter Dean Brownell had a world record-setting performance at the 14th annual Big Ten indoor track and field championships in Evanston.
With the bar set at 3.98 meters, a crowd of more than 6,000 at Patten Gymnasium watched coach Harry Gill’s junior become the first athlete in the world to clear the then magic 13-foot height, exceeding it by five-eighths of an inch.
Brownell’s record performance broke the previous mark of 12-10¾, set a year earlier by Chicago’s Laddie Myers and the Illinois A.C.’s Eddie Knourek.
Born and raised in Champaign, Brownell remained the world record holder for nearly two more years. That mark was reset by Charles Hoff on Feb. 4, 1926 when the Norwegian cleared 3.985 meters.
Brownell became a plumbing and heating salesman in Champaign after he graduated from the University of Illinois, but died about a month after his 40th birthday on Sept. 6, 1940. He is buried at Champaign’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Men’s pole vault indoor world record progression
Mark, Athlete, Date
First to top 13 feet
3.98m (13 feet, 0.577 inches), Dean Brownell, March 15, 1924
First to top 14 feet
4.195m to 4.29m, Sabin Carr, Feb. 14, 1927 to Feb. 25, 1928 (broke record twice)
First to top 15 feet
4.42m to 4.79m, Cornelius Warmerdam, Feb. 11, 1939 to March, 20, 1943 (broke record six times)
First to top 16 feet
4.83m to 4.89m, John Uelses, Jan. 27, 1962 to Feb.3, 1962 (broke record three times)
First to top 17 feet
5.19m to 5.33m, Bob Seagren, March 5, 1966 to Feb. 8, 1969 (broke record eight times)
First to top 18 feet
5.46m to 5.49m, Steve Smith, Jan. 20, 1973 to Jan. 26, 1973 (broke record twice)
First to top 19 feet
5.71m to 5.80m, Billy Olson, Jan. 29, 1982 to Feb. 4, 1984 (broke record seven times)
First to top 20 feet
5.81m to 6.15m, Sergey Bubka, Jan. 15, 1984 to Feb. 21, 1993 (broke record 18 times)
Current world record holder
6.17m to 6.18m (20 feet, 0.2756 inches), Armand Duplantis, Feb. 8, 2020 to Feb. 15, 2020 (broke record twice)
Sunday: Shammond Cooper, football (19)
Monday: Jade Hilton, tennis (24)
Tuesday: Sean Streeter, football (51)
Wednesday: Rajeev Ram, tennis (36)
Thursday: Ty Weber, baseball (22)
Friday: Mark Bial, basketball coach (66)
Saturday: Chase Brown, football (20)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.