John Uelses, First to Pole-Vault 16 Feet, Is Dead at 85

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John Uelses, First to Pole-Vault 16 Feet, Is Dead at 85


Hans Feigenbaum was born in Berlin on July 14, 1937. His father, a German soldier, was killed during World War II. When Hans was 11 or 12, his mother sent him to Miami to live with an aunt, who adopted him. He changed his first name to John and took the aunt’s married name, Uelses. Because he spoke no English, he started school in Miami in fourth grade. He later became a United States citizen.

He was introduced to the pole vault as a high school senior. The first day, he cleared 10 feet 6 inches. By season’s end, he reached 13 feet and won the Florida high school championship. Then came the Marines, and then one year at the University of Alabama. He said he left Alabama because he had received no coaching; “all they cared about was football,” he said.

After transferring to LaSalle University in Philadelphia, he became an N.C.A.A. champion. He graduated in 1965. During the Vietnam War, he was a Navy fighter pilot, and in later years coached high school vaulters.

The current world-record holder in pole-vaulting is Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, 23, of Sweden. His current best mark, set this year, is 20 feet 4 inches (listed as 6.22 meters). Like most pole-vaulters today, he uses a fiberglass pole.

In addition to his daughter, Ms. Robertson, Uelses is survived by his wife, Mickey Uelses: a brother, Fred; a son, Mark; two grandsons; and one great-granddaughter.

Weeks after Uelses’s moment of glory at Madison Square Garden, John Glenn orbited the Earth.

“He was the second Marine astronaut to go into space,” Uelses told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “I was the first.”

Frank Litsky, a longtime Times sportswriter, died in 2018.



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