Clearing 7 ft. twice, Mel Embree nearly equalled the best high jumps of his career, but the competition at the NCAA championship finals last Saturday proved too strong and he failed to score.
The sophomore jumper was the only Harvard athlete to qualify for the NCAA championships held in Houston, Tex. last weekend. In the qualifying round last Thursday, Embree leaped 7 ft. His highest successful jump in the finals on Saturday was again 7 ft.
Until this year--when Embree scaled 7 ft. 1/4 in. at the Heptagonals and on a Channel 5 TV show--7 ft. was the greatest height any Crimson jumper had ever cleared. By Harvard standards, Embree's is a spectacular leap.
Even at last year's NCAA finals, Coach Edgar Stowell said yesterday, "If I'm not mistaken, 7 ft. would have cleared the field." But in 1974, 7 ft. turned out to be nothing special at all.
"It was an excellent field," the head coach said. "There were 14 who cleared 7 ft." And therein was Embree's downfall.
Three men cleared 7 ft. 2 in., including Randy Smith of Kansas, who won on fewest misses. And four cleared 7 ft. 1 in. "We had hoped before the meet that he might clear seven-one, which he would have needed to score," Stowell said. "But we think he had a very fine year anyway."
Embree finished second in the IC4A's three weeks ago, when his best effort was 6 ft. 11 in. "At that level I thought he might win," Stowell said at the time. But both Embree and his coach were worried about the extra tension of the NCAA finals.
"There's a lot of a different kind of pressure when you get out there with such tough competition," Stowell said. "There were 14 seven-footers! With a performance like his, against that kind of pressure, we're certainly not disappointed."
Embree, who uses the head-first, backwards style of jumping introduced a few years ago by Dave Fosbury, has a strong chance next year to break his Harvard record, considering his strong performance all season long as a sophomore. The Crimson will have another excellent performer next year in John McCulloh, the high-jumping freshman who was knocked out of the IC4A's at 6 ft. 8 in.
Before Embree jumped 7 ft. 1/4 in. at the Heptagonals, the Harvard record high jump was 7 ft., set by Chris Pardee in 1966.
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