The highly vocal and highly excitable world of amateur athletics was properly impressed this summer when Russia's record-hungry track team suddenly produced two 7-foot high jumpers. But last week it was suspecting out loud that the U.S.S.R. had, in the words of Stephen Potter, discovered an ingenious method of winning "without actually cheating." Sharp-eyed editors of the Parisian sporting newspaper L'Equipe started the talk by running a picture of Jumper Igor Kashkarov with a caption: "The Mysterious Shoe of the Soviet High Jumpers."
It made a fascinating world conversation piece. Kashkarov, who recently reached 7 feet 4½ inches in a meet in Moscow after doing only 6 feet 9 7/8 inches at Melbourne, was wearing a jumping shoe with a very thick sole on his take-off foot. Other pictures disclosed that a second and even more sensational Soviet jumper, Yuri Stepanov, wore the same curious footwear. Stepanov, who was unable to make the Olympic team, emerged from mediocrity last month like a chorus girl hopping out of a paper cake—he jumped 7 feet one inch at Leningrad and broke Charlie Dumas' world record by one half inch.
The Russians, who were in London for a meet at White City Stadium, scoffed at the reports. So, for some curious reasons, did their English hosts. British Team Manager Jack Crump said the whole thing was a "French hoax" and gravely waved an ordinary jumping shoe on television. But, as the photographs on these pages make clear, the Russians—who tied at 6 feet 11 inches in London—had used their mysterious shoes under his very nose.
Did they contain springs? Were they, as L'Equipe's special correspondent asked, delicately, "little trampolins?" Swedish High Jumper Bertil Holgren stated that they improved performance by four inches. The truth was less sensational. Kashkarov had worn the shoe in the Olympics, where nobody paid it the slightest heed. Its sole is a pad of red rubber about a half inch thick, with inset spikes. It is perfectly legal under the present easygoing rules—because nobody but the Russians ever conceived of such a stunt; a jumper is at liberty to wear a sole four inches thick without violating the rules of international athletics. The improvement of both Russian jumpers can be ascribed in part to simple progress. But the shoe, almost certainly, does give a jumper some advantage in leverage and spring. It may—like the whirling Spanish javelin style—be soon outlawed. The International Amateur Athletic Federation, reacting to the Soviet discovery of a loophole in the rules, is preparing to investigate "make a stand."