1959 TRACK & FIELD INDUCTEE
Cornelius “Dutch” Warmerdam was one of the most humble, self-effacing athletic greats that anyone could ever meet. His close friend, Payton Jordan, who was a top sprinter at USC and later an outstanding track and field coach at Stanford University, made this statement: “Dutch was the truest and purest champion I have ever met.” Whether he was on a ladder in his First Street peach orchard or in a jam-packed indoor meet in Madison Square Garden, he was just “Dutch.” Warmerdam was born in Long Beach, but the family moved to a farm outside of Hanford when he was three. His father, a farmer born in Rotterdam, could never figure out how his son’s picture was in all the papers, yet he wasn’t making any money. “Yes, some of the athletes were making extra money at the time, but I never got more than expenses and sometimes not enough to cover those,” Warmerdam said during an interview on the occasion of his retirement from coaching in 1980.
Warmerdam graduated from Fresno State in 1938 and joined the San Francisco Olympic Club coached by Charley Hunter while taking post-graduate work at Stanford. Hunter had put together one of the greatest track and field teams ever and freely predicted that Warmerdam would top fifteen feet. Much was written about Warmerdam, George Varofi, and USC’s “Heavenly Twins” Bill Sefton and Earle Meadows as they inched toward the magical fifteen-foot mark. In contrast to today’s fiberglass poles, they used bamboo poles which had little bend to them and relied on timing, arm pull, and technique. Vaulters landed on unforgiving sawdust or sand, not today’s inflated foam rubber pillows. Meadows held the world record of 14’1l” when Warmerdam made his historic fifteen-footer on April 13, 1940 during a three-way meet in Berkeley. His highest vault prior to the record was 14’7″ Warmerdam made eleven vaults in Berkeley. He missed the first three tries at 14’5″, 14’8″ and 15″, but sailed over on his second attempt at all three. That record was headline news in America and Europe.
Writers searched for nicknames, calling him “The Flying Dutchman,” “The Human Fly,” “American Eagle.” “Corny,” and Connie.” Forty-three times, Warmerdam vaulted fifteen-feet-plus during a period from 1940 to 1943 before he retired to become a coach. It was fifteen years later that Bob Gutowski of Occidental, used a steel pole and topped Warmerdam’s 15’7″ outdoor record by clearing 15’8″. In typical Warmerdam fashion, he greeted the news of Gutowski’s vault from his tractor while plowing his peach orchard. He had his wife, Juanita, relay his response: “It couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow and I am not surprised.” Later he added: “Fifteen years is long enough for anyone. I enjoyed my position and now it is someone else’s turn.” Some might think from his easygoing personality that Warmerdam was not a strong competitor, but he was always at his best when the pressure was on. There was immense pressure when he went east for the first time after his record vault because people were skeptical of anyone from California. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was that Warmerdam had no rivals to push him, so he had to provide his own motivation. That’s where the competitive spirit shined brightly.
Warmerdam said he used just two poles in making forty-two of his fifteen-foot-plus vaults. The first was one that he found in the discard pile at Stanford. That pole had a weak spot, but Warmerdam knew where it was and was able to compensate for it. His next pole was one given to him by San Jose State vaulter Tony Sunseri. It was too heavy for Sunseri, but just right for Warmerdam. Another record vault was with a pole borrowed from Milton Padway during the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden in New York. Transporting vaulting poles was always a problem,” Warmerdam said. “The time I borrowed Padway’s pole, mine arrived by rail late. Airplanes did not like to transport poles because they didn’t fit in the baggage compartments and even when they did, most taxis wouldn’t take them, so I had to hire a delivery truck.” Padway’s pole was six inches shorter than Warmerdam’s, but he still managed to make 15’3/4″, satisfying himself and the East Coast crowd.
Two of Warmerdam’s fifteen foot vaults came during the 1942 and 1943 West Coast Relays in Ratcliffe Stadium. He topped 15’2″ in the first and 15’1/2″ in the second. During his reign, Dutch bettered fifteen feet twice in 1940, ten times in 1941, fourteen in 1942, sixteen in 1943 and once in 1944. His forty-three fifteen-foot-plus vaults were accomplished in thirty-three meets where he bettered his own outdoor records thirty-one times. His final ten were while he was stationed at the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School. Warmerdam won the James E. Sullivan Award in 1942 before he enlisted in the Navy after placing second for the Sullivan in 1941. This award is given to the top amateur athlete in any sport who typifies the excellence in performance and sportsmanship in the United States. He was voted the Greatest Field Athlete of All Time in a 1955 UPI poll and was in the first group elected into both the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. He was also ushered into the U.S. Track Coaches Hall of Fame.
The Fresno State campus track was named after him. On 24 Cornelius “Dutch” Warmerdam September 13, 2001, Hanford dedicated “Dutch Warmerdam Drive,” located on the north side of Hanford’s library. With all of his honors, he never made it to the Olympic Games. His best chance was in 1936, but an abscessed tooth caused his ankle to swell and he couldn’t participate in the trials. That year, he vaulted 14’4″ at Fresno State and the gold was won by Meadows at 14’3″. When Warmerdam ruled the world of vaulting from 1940 to 1944, World War II cancelled the Olympics. Warmerdam set his outdoor record of 15’7 3/4″ in Modesto and his indoor mark of 15’8 1/2″ in the Chicago Relays on his 33d record vault. Following his discharge from the Navy, he began coaching which disqualified him from the Olympics.
Warmerdam twice narrowly missed sixteen feet in Philadelphia. He brushed the bar once with his hand and another time with his elbow. At forty-three, he used a bamboo pole to top 14’4″ just to show he still could do it. Without even telling his assistant Red Estes, Warmerdam, who was sixty, entered a Masters Division Decathlon at Glendale College and not only won, but set a Masters world record of 4,328 points as well as set global marks in three individual events. His poorest event was the pole vault. He could not get his timing on the fast Glendale runway. Estes said: “Dutch had trained for six months before or after practice and surprised everyone with his performance. That was his only meet after sixty, but was a tribute to his physical condition and determination.” When Payton Jordan presented Dutch his silver tray for being inducted into the Northern California Hall of Fame, he gave his friend high praise: “Dutch undoubtedly was one of the greatest athletes in history, but more than that he was a humble, gracious man who exemplified everything good about athletics. He competed any place and under any conditions with never an alibi or complaint. No finer gentleman has ever competed.”
Warmerdam began coaching at his alma mater in 1947 as assistant to J. Flint Hanner and became head coach of the Bulldogs when Flint retired in 1961. He tutored several NCAA champions. One of his finest coaching assignments was head coach of the American team in the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg. Warmerdam made two trips overseas and always was the headliner, even though he was in meets where there were a number of world record holders and Olympic champions. Dutch was a handsome man with a ready smile and a good sense of humor. He was a good golfer, hunter and an excellent husband, father to his five children, and grandfather to his twenty grandchildren. Dutch Warmerdam passed away on November 13, 2001 in Fresno.
“I doubt that the achievements of any other man in the entire history of American athletics has ever had so great an effect, not only upon American sports but on the minds of American people, as those of Warmerdam from the day in Berkeley when he first vaulted to the supposedly impossible 15 feet. He did it in such a way as to prove that all previous ideas had been pure fallacy. And if the ideas about the pole vault had been completely wrong, then why weren’t they equally wrong in other events? And if they were wrong all through track and field, maybe they were wrong in all kinds of business. Who can ever begin to measure the extent to which his example has influenced the thinking of American men?” -Dink Templeton, Stanford University Track & Field Coach