EARLE ELMER MEADOWS

June 29, 1913 – November 11, 1992

Earle MeadowsDuring the summer of 1923, ten-year-old Earle Meadows began jumping an old clothesline with a rug cane.  He had decided that he wanted to become a pole-vaulter.  By the time he was fifteen, Meadows had built himself a runway in the dirt driveway of his home on Cherry Street, near Burnett Park.  Working with a slender bamboo pole, he practiced continuously, perfecting a form that took him higher and higher.

At Central High School, under the coaching of C. W. Berry, Meadows won the city championship four years in a row (1930-33).  He tied for the state title in 1932 and won in 1933 with a state record vault of 13’-1½” that stood for twenty-five years (until 1958 and the introduction of fiberglass poles).

During the 1930s Texas universities did not offer full scholarships for track, so Meadows accepted a scholarship to the University of Southern California.  There he joined another pole-vaulting phenom, Bill Sefton, from Los Angeles.  The two quickly became close friends and together they became known as the “Heavenly Twins,” and the “Twins of Troy.”

The two freshmen vaulters pushed one another to unprecedented heights.  During the spring of 1934 Sefton reached a record 14’.  Meadows did not measure up but he continued to practice and improved himself.  By the spring of 1935 Meadows had vaulted 14’-1 1/8” and tied Sefton’s for the national collegiate championship. 

At the 1936 U.S. Olympic trials Meadows and Sefton both cleared 14’-3” to make the team.  During the summer competition in Berlin, Meadows set an Olympic record of 14’-3”, winning a gold medal victory against two Japanese vaulters who tied for second; Sefton came in fourth.

Returning to USC after the Olympics, the “Twins of Troy” pushed the vaulting records even higher during the spring of 1937.  On May 29, the pair tied while setting a world record at 14’-11”.  Sefton had cleared the height first and then cheered Meadows across the bar on his last attempt.  Meadows later recalled, “We might both very well have gone through the 15 foot ceiling that afternoon if we hadn’t been stopped by the limit of the standards.  Officials set them on boxes, but couldn’t get the bar to 15 feet.”

World War II cut short Meadows career, preventing the 1940 and 1944 Olympics.  By 1948 Meadows returned to the Olympic Trials and cleared 14’-6”, but did not make the U.S. team.  At the 1948 London Olympics, McKinney, Texas-born Owen Guinn Smith cleared 14’ 1 ½” for the gold medal during a rain-soaked competition.

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