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A Former Olympian Still Jumps With Joy

May 09, 2022 5 min read

Geezer Jock Olympics Rob Jerome Dwight Stones

(Photo by Rob Jerome)


He was in the Olympics, but if you are coming to see that Jim Barrineau he can’t, and won't try, to recreate the high-jumping feats of 40-45 years ago when his best was 7-feet, 6½ inches.

Barrineau, 66, understands we are built in a way that we must evolve psychologically, as much as physically. The Ferrari, he said, nested under a tarp for years, simply should not be backed out of the garage, and taken to 90…on the freeway on-ramp.

“I train twice a week,” Barrineau said. “but I don’t jump. I ration my jumping quite a bit."

He saves the explosion off that worn right foot for meets, which are fewer and fewer because the Ferrari has many, many miles on it. From the time he was in the fourth grade in 1965, on his way to being one of the very best high jumpers in the world, all the way to 2019 Barrineau jumped in a meet every year. He missed 2020 and 2021 because of Covid, but he kept training.

It’s a lesson Geezer Jock mentions often: wad up your ego small enough so it can stuff into the toe of your shoe so you don’t think you are 20 again and get too rambunctious out there. But keep your ego just big enough to stir competitive juices to provide goals for the track….or pool, or court, or field, or on the bike.

Barrineau was on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team and still holds the USA Track & Field Masters 40-45 record in the high jump (6 feet, 11 inches). He will compete for the U.S. in the World Masters Games in Finland on July 5. Partly for that reason, he will not be in Ft. Lauderdale for the National Senior Games next week.

Take it from a still elite senior athlete:

Do not borrow trouble for yourself by getting full of yourself. Show the form, and the spirit, not every week, but just enough to keep the juices percolating. But train.

There is a You Tube of Barrineau clearing the bar at the 2019 Albuquerque National Senior Games. He bounces off the mat pumping his fist, like it is the 1970s, or early 80s, again.

Thataboy. A little nostalgia is good for the soul.

The high jumpers are indeed soul mates. It was that way even back in the 1970s when they all chased the legendary Dwight Stones.

“It's a connection to our youth,” Barrineau said. “It is a movement that we learned that has become second nature to us. It’s a source of pride, especially for the 70-year olds today because they were almost all straddle jumpers, at least the good ones were, and they take pride in being able to do the straddle, which is almost a lost art. And some of them are very, very good at it.”

Barrineau goes at the bar from the left side and still does the Fosbury Flop. The straddle is less taxing on the body because there are steps to the bar, not a run-up, but he is a Flop guy and he is going to go out as a Flop guy. Barrineau was one of those guys who went in low at the bar with bent knee and exploded off his right foot, through his lower leg, up through his torso, and catapulted backwards over the bar. You need speed for that power jumping approach and “speed is a diminishing commodity,” he said with a chuckle.

“It still gives me a sense of purpose,” Barrineau said. “It’s a source of pride, but sometimes a source of frustration with little aches and injuries and things that bedevil us as we get older."

It must be hard for a world class athlete to lose that precious skill he spent so many hours perfecting.

“I rationalize it. I’m never going to jump as high as I had jumped, and that's just the way it is," Barrineau said. "It's all relative. And as long as I can count myself among the top guys in the country, and even in the world, as long as I can hang around that top group, I may not be the top dog, but if I can kind of be in the mix, I'll be happy about that.”

Barrineau has ambitions of claiming a medal in Finland at The World Games. The competition will come from fellow American Willie Banks, who was an Olympian and once upon a time set a world record in the triple jump. He is now known as “Three-step Willie” for his Masters Track high-jumping prowess.

“The last time I competed against him it was nationals in Ames, Iowa in 2019 and he jumped 5-7 and I got to 5-5 and got second. He made it look easy,” Barrineau said. “He's going to be tough to beat.”

I wanted to ask Barrineau about what happened at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal when he finished 11th. I figured he would rather kiss a hot iron or wrestle with Satan than talk about it, but he did.

You see, Barrineau looked primed to win a Gold or Silver. Jacek Wszola of Poland, the eventual winner of the gold, and Barrineau led the way out of qualifying. They were 1-2 at 2.16 meters.

It started raining during the finals and the 21-year old Barrineau, still a student at the University of Georgia, was distracted. Other events were going on around the cavernous track and with the rain, he was off his game.

“I was just not focused,” Barrineau said. He went just 2.14 meters.

How long did it take him to get over it?

“I’m still not over it,” Barrineau said with a little laugh.

You bet he wishes he could match the wits of a 66-year old with the athleticism of the 21-year old. What would older Jim tell younger Jim?

“Be smart. Focus. Don’t get caught up in the moment, or the whole atmosphere,” he said. “Forget this is a very important track meet, don’t rest on your laurels, don’t change your routines.”

The good news for the track & field community is that Barrineau can package those lessons for young track stars and pass them on. He is the track coach at Robinson High School in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.

Barrineau, who was a four-time All-American at Georgia, was a soldier after college and that adds to his ability to lead and coach teenagers.

He genuinely admires the high jumpers he meets at Masters events. They were good high school jumpers, not world-class like him, but Barrineau identifies with them in so many ways.

“I admire these guys quite a bit, they’re resilient, and they’re not normal for doing this in their 60s and 70s,” he said.

The guys in their 50s behind Barrineau will find out, like he did, that the camaraderie is intoxicating at these Masters meets. They will want to hang around when they start to lose height because many will understand that ego needs to become subservient to having fun.

“It’s a community out there now, but it’s always been that way,” Barrineau said. “There are a few that are focused on just the event and they kind of lose sight of the fact there is a social event going on here.”

Barrineau paused for a moment. He crossed paths with a high jumper who replaced him on a U.S. Junior National team when Barrineau broke his leg.

“He’s still going and it’s been almost 50 years that have passed since we competed,” Barrineau said. “I think it keeps you mentally young, those social interactions. And then you have all the meet preparation, the warm ups, and all the mental preparations you do and it harkens back to when you were younger.

“There's really nothing else in your life that can replicate that. And it's kind of a neat feeling.”

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