When I was in high school, my peer group said I was conceited, but that was just jealousy. I really am quite modest, but my personality is an outgrowth of my early childhood when I was so uptight, hyper and introverted that I was just ruined. Whatever normal was, I was minus-five. Now I have to project a plus-five as an extrovert just to get even."
The speaker is Dwight Stones who, in his campaign to maintain a profile higher than his world-record high jump, is given to extravagant flights of self-analysis. However, his self-proclaimed introversion is perhaps a matter of interpretation. In the fourth grade Stones built a jumping pit in the front yard of his Highland Park, Calif. home. "I could have built it in the backyard," he says, "but no one could see me there. It's no fun when no one can see you." Actually, Stones' immodesty is more the expression of wonder than the milking of applause. He is, for example, fascinated by the fact that through his freshman year at college he progressed almost six inches a year from his best of 5'1" as an eighth-grader. It intrigues him that he has leaped seven feet or better on 150 occasions. The mention of his world record of 7'6½", which Track and Field News called the Outstanding Performance of 1973, evokes a wistful "Golly." Stones fascinates Stones, not without reason.
There is also the mitigating factor of age. Last Dec. 6 Stones turned 20. "In a lot of ways I'm not as mature as a normal 20-year-old," he says, "especially with my mouth. I mess up often enough to hurt my image. But in other ways, because of my travel and experiences, I'm more mature than any 20-year-old I know. I have to concentrate on my personal life the way I do on the high jump."
Stones' personality may gall many, but no one can complain about his demeanor before, and over, the bar. Coach Tom Jennings of the Pacific Coast Club, for which he competes, says, "Stones has his technique down perfectly. If he misses a jump, it's usually because he didn't put enough into it." Stones puts on an elaborate enough prejump show. He walks up to the right standard, raises his right leg and clasps it to his chest while gazing imploringly at the heavens. He lovingly pats his hairdo in several places, shakes a finger at the bar as though admonishing it to stay put and waves his right hand as if conducting a small orchestra whose music only he can hear.
February 3, 1974
A flopper, the 6'5", 175-pound Stones is a fanatical defender of the style. "One regret I have," he says, "is that I've never met [Valery] Brumel. He struck terror into the hearts of his opposition. If I can do for the flop what he did for the straddle, if I can remain a force with my technique, then I'll accomplish what I want to in track and field. I'm convinced that the flop is a much more natural, logical, normal technique, the best way to correlate maximum speed with the right amount of strength. When all goes right, it's a great feeling. I feel that there is this one small tube that you flow through up over the bar and float right down. Sometimes three steps before the bar I know I'll make it."
Usually Stones' forecasts considerably precede his last three steps, and if he is to be chided for being cocky, the blame lies with his accuracy. "I've always known I was going to be a complete success," he says in one of those appalling confessions that make his friends wince. "I knew I'd be a great high jumper. I told the kids on my high school team that I'd make the Olympic team, and they just laughed and laughed. I also was convinced, just convinced, that I'd be the world-record holder before the '76 Games."
Now only Stones is laughing. Last summer in Munich, returning to the scene of his bronze-medal finish in the '72 Games, he soared 2.30 meters to shatter Pat Matzdorf's old standard by three-eighths of an inch.
"I'm a predictor of marks," he says. "I know when a good jump is coming, and every time I've predicted one I've made it or exceeded it." Stones showed up uninvited at the Los Angeles track writers' luncheon one day last June and with his customary brashness promised he would jump 7'5" to win the AAU championships. Five days later he jumped 7'5" to win the AAU championships.
"People who know me rib me about my cockiness," Stones said the night before he competed in New York's Mill-rose Games last week. "I have three personalities. One is the way I wish I could be all the time, the way I am right now—relaxed, confident, matter-of-fact. Two is when I'm with the team, being sarcastic, cutting people up, generally cynical. We really get carried away with that. Three is when I'm concentrating on a jump. I can get so involved I don't hear people call my name. When I'm intense, I'm hyper, but it's hard to produce if you aren't."
Strangely, Stones says he could not produce during his "introvert" period for the same reason. Through one year of military school and 3½ in a parochial school he was an athletic bust. "I had no confidence in anything I did even when I knew I could do it," he says. "Glendale High School was different, but not a great deal happier. Glendale has some very rich people whose kids are very spoiled. As a result, everyone is trying to get into that top group and it's put-down city. The kids who don't excel get beaten back. It was an unhappy time in my life because of put-downs from friends, and the ironic thing was that the only reason I wanted to attain the level I did was to please that group."
Stones was raised by his mother, who teamed up with Coach John Barnes to ensure that Dwight's senior year would be a success. "That one summer everything changed completely," he says. "They convinced me I had the tools. It was a case of 'You better start going and do the job because there isn't much time left.' Barnes made me work but he wouldn't let me jump for two months. The first time I did I went 6'5" and I knew I was going to be O.K."
As a senior Stones won the 1971 California state meet with a national inter-scholastic record of 7'1½". This earned him a short-lived scholarship to UCLA. At Westwood, Stones and Coach Jim Bush became mutually disenchanted over jobs and classroom work, a situation that reached a breaking point in June 1972 when the athletic department wanted Stones to improve his grades in summer school.
Stones, of course, had planned to devote the summer to improving his jumping in the Olympic Trials and at Munich. "That's part of the reason why I wasn't cutting it in class," he says. "I was putting everything I had into jumping. I said, 'I know I'm going to make the Olympic team,' and they said, 'Yeah, but why don't we make provisions for summer school in case you don't make it.' I didn't want to hear that kind of negative talk."
Stones is now enrolled at Glendale City College, "but I'm working toward nothing at all," he says. "I'm just there to break the national JC record. I won't do well in school until I have to get a degree to get a job. Until I'm under the gun, I won't do it. I'd eventually like to be in sportscasting or some kind of public relations where I'm promoting a concept, a product or a theory. I'd go to sportscasting school gladly, but I can't see taking a bunch of unrelated courses and wasting all that time. I'd like something where my achievements in sports would get me an in. I've always been a salesman. I could sell ice to Eskimos if my survival depended on it."
It is more than probable that Stones had a lot to do with selling 15,571 tickets to the Millrose meet, where he was advertised as a threat to Brumel's world indoor record of 7'4½". And with good reason, since Stones had jumped 7'4¼" in Los Angeles to break the American indoor record the weekend before. On Friday at Madison Square Garden, he hoped to hit 7'5", but he would not flat-out predict it. "I've jumped here twice and won at 7'2" both times," he said. "I'm definitely going for the record, but my workouts this week were bothered a little by the weather."
Much to the disgust of the straddlers, the Millrose officials bent over backward to help Stones. The pit was positioned so that he and the other floppers who approached the bar from the right side had a longer runway and a more favorable angle. Appraising the bar at 7'5" eight hours before the meet, Stones said, "That's it. It looks high but it will be better tonight with some faces in the background and seeing some heads above the bar. That brings it down."
The previous night Stones had said, "My lucky number is supposed to be three, and a lot of strange threes have cropped up in my life. The first time I competed in the CIF [California Inter-scholastic Federation] I was third in the third division and got 6'3" on my third jump. I jumped 7'3" in the Olympic Trials and 7'3" in the Games. My world record came on my third jump. As a result, I've become really good on third jumps. I think of it as an advantage rather than as a pressure situation."
So it was at the Garden. Stones had a miss at seven feet, which could have landed him in third place, before he won at 7'2" on his third attempt. A few hours later he caught a plane for Portland, Ore., where again the number three cropped up, but this time less happily. Psyched out by a takeoff area that allowed him eight instead of his customary 10 steps, Stones finished third (Tom Woods of Oregon State won at 7'2¼") with a leap of 6'10". And then it was right back across the country again for the Philadelphia Track Classic and yet another record try.
As for the more distant future, Stones says, "I've been saying since August that 2.40 meters [7'10½"] is my goal. That's when I got the metric system figured out. I'm four inches from that, and I figure I can get it by the time I'm 24. And if I do, what's another inch and a half." It's some kind of eight-foot flop.