CUERO - Fred Hansen approached the pole vault runway for his third and final attempt.

Everything he dreamed of as a young boy vaulting with his father's bamboo pole into a pit filled with sand from the Guadalupe River was at stake.

Hansen had been competing for almost 10 hours, but focused on the task at hand.

"I have a mental routine that I go through at the head of the runway," he said. "I remember looking down the runway before I jumped and going through my routine mentally of a perfect jump. Step by step, going through the different phases of the vault, and there's about seven, over and over in my mind.

"The German (Wolfgang Reinhardt) was standing right down there by the pit at the end of the runway trying to distract me. The German youth group was chanting in the stands. It was unbelievable the chant they were doing. In fact, it invigorated me. I knew it wasn't for me. But it inspired me as much as their people."

Hansen easily cleared the bar at 16 feet, 83/4 inches to win the gold medal at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

"I was kind of relieved it was over with," he said. "It was a fantastic moment. It was just a matter of getting it done under all that pressure."

Hansen, 75, reflected on his Olympic memories during the opening of "Cuero's Olympian: Fred Hansen Exhibit" on Thursday at the Cuero Heritage Museum.

"I had been over that height in practice with a short pole and a short run," Hansen said. "You know, I can't believe I put myself under that kind of pressure by screwing up the first two jumps. Basically, what it was, I wouldn't rock back far enough so my legs would hit the bar going up. All I had to do was rock back sooner. I did and I went over it.

"They asked me if I wanted to raise the bar," he added. "I said, 'No. We've been out here for 10 hours.' It was dark and I went to the medal stand and got my medal. We entered the national stadium at 12:30 and we left at 10:30 that night."

Hansen went on to win pole vault competitions in Osaka, Japan, and Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, before ending a track and field career that began in high school at Cuero and continued on the collegiate level at Rice.

Hansen was one of the initial Americans to vault with a fiberglass pole and became the first person to clear 17 feet and set what was then a world record of 17-4 at USA-USSR dual meet in Los Angeles in 1964.

"I felt like that year I had gotten so good touring Europe and coming back and all the meets I had been in," Hansen said. "I really felt like there was nobody who could beat me unless I had a bad day or did something crazy. I just had to make sure I didn't."

Hansen didn't have many bad days in his athletic career.

He set Class 3A (now 4A) records at the state meet in the pole vault and broad (long) jump at Cuero.

He was also a halfback on the football team and was selected to play in the Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star Game in 1959.

Hansen was the Southwest Conference champion in the pole vault and broad jump at Rice, and shared the NCAA championship and earned All-American honors in the broad jump as a junior.

"If you really love something, just work hard at it," Hansen said. "I never worked that hard as I did for the Olympics. If you're going to be really good at something, you really have to pay the price. All those people there competing (at the Olympics) now really paid the price. You're given a certain amount of God-given ability. But you still have to work hard even with that ability."

Hansen went to dental school after winning his gold medal - and with the exception of competing in the match play portion of the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship in 1980 - concentrated on his dental practice in Houston for 44 years until retiring in 2012.

Hansen splits time between Houston and his ranch in Cheapside.

The exhibit opening allowed Hansen to meet Kamron Mathis, who broke his Cuero school record (24-6) in the long jump which had stood for 57 years with a leap of 24-61/4 at last season's regional meet.

"Somebody told me about that," Hansen joked. "My comment was somebody mismeasured that."

Mathis is beginning his college career at Texas A&M-Kingsville and was inspired visiting with Hansen.

"Not only have I heard about him, I've seen his pictures on the walls in the locker room," Mathis said. "My friends and I would all go and look at the guys after practice to see if we were going to break the records and be up there.

"I'm just happy that I finally got my dream and got to meet the person and take after my dream and try to go to the Olympics."

Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or mforman@vicad.com.

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