Fred Hansen's winning vault at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
Oct. 17, 2014
HOUSTON, Texas - Fifty years ago today, former Rice track and field standout Fred Hansen became the first and still only Rice athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, doing so in the pole vault at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Cuero, Texas native was preparing for dental school after finishing his stellar Rice track career in 1963. Hansen endured a grueling, weather-interrupted, nine plus hour competition on Oct. 17, 1964.
Hansen made first attempt clearances all the way through the competition. When the bar reached 16-5 Hansen, along with the three German vaulters, again cleared the bar on their first attempts. Unlike the German vaulters, Hansen gambled and passed the next bar (16-7).
When Wolfgang Reinhard cleared the 16-7 bar the pressure mounted on Hansen. The former Owl had to clear 16-9 to secure the gold medal. If he missed, Reinhard would be the first non-American to ever win the Olympic Gold Medal in the pole vault, leaving it up to Fred to keep the USA's streak alive.
When Hansen missed his first two attempts at 16-9, the pressure really ratcheted up. Ultimately, in stirring fashion in front of thousands of frenzied fans, Hansen soared over the cross bar on his final try. When Reinhard missed on his third attempt Hansen had, finally, after a long, wet and demanding day, secured the gold medal for himself and the USA.
While at Rice, prior to the Olympic Games, Hansen had a remarkable track and field career. He was the 1962 NCAA Pole Vault national champion, a three-time NCAA All-American in the pole vault, and was the Southwest Conference champion in the pole vault and long jump in 1962. The following year (1963), Hansen also won the Bob Quin Award, the highest honor a Rice athlete can achieve.
In addition to the Olympic Games, 1964 was a phenomenal year for Hansen's pole vaulting career. He was the first man to clear 17 feet, setting the world record two times and the American record three times. His ultimate highest clearance was 17-4. He held these records for almost two years before another American, Bob Seagren, raised the bar up another small notch in 1966.
Hansen will be honored at a special homecoming evening reception on Friday, Nov. 7 at the La Colombe d'Or Hotel.