SAN DIEGO, CA — Willie Banks of Carlsbad is 56 now. But the former Oceanside High School star who went on to track and field fame at UCLA and set a world record in the triple jump still enjoys the sport.
Saturday at Mesa College, competing long after others in his event, he became the oldest American to clear 6 feet in the high jump.
His first-try clearance at the San Diego Senior Games beat the current age-group U.S. best of 5-10 3/4 by Olympian Jim Barrineau in August—which in turn had topped the event’s oldest record, 5-10 by Herm Wyatt in 1987.
How did he do it? Extra training? Special coaching?
Banks said no: “I’ve been losing weight for this.” Since January, he said, he’s gone from 203 pounds to 183.
Using a three-step approach. Banks cleared his first height—5-6—then followed with successful tries at 5-8 and 5-10, measured metrically at 1.68, 1.73 and 1.78 meters. He used the straddle technique, clearing face to the bar, instead of the almost universally used Fosbury flop, with back to the bar.
After jumping 6 feet, he had the bar raised another 5 centimeters to 1.88 meters, or 6-2. He barely missed on his second try. That would have topped the listed world age-group record for men 55-59 of 6-0 1/2 by Thomas Zacharias of Germany.
Banks, who competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1999. His world record in the triple jump of 58-11 1/2 lasted 10 years.