Dwight Stones is the best high jumper in the world. Just ask him. “In 1976,” says the brash, 20-year-old Californian, “I’ll win the Olympic Gold Medal for the U.S. Then I’ll change my name back to Strenstreom, which was my grandfather’s name before he emigrated here from Sweden, and I’ll take on Swedish citizenship and in 1980 win the Gold Medal for Sweden.” Stones grins at the gag. “The Swedes go bananas when I say things like that.”
All this might be dismissed as Beach Boy bravado except for two things: Stones already has one Olympic medal, a bronze he won in 1972 as the youngest member of the American team. And he is the holder of the world high-jumping record—7’6 5/8″—set last summer in a West Germany-U.S. meet at Munich.
There was a time, his friends say, when Stones was introverted and would have accepted all this success with becoming humility. But that was when both his feet were a little closer to, if not on, the ground.
Now Stones warms up wearing a jersey imprinted with “Big D,” his nickname; he sometimes jumps in bikini swim trunks. After he makes a successful jump (using the back-first, belly-side-up “Fosbury Flop” popularized by 1968 Olympic champ Dick Fosbury), he does a fist-shaking victory dance. With his ego growing by leaps and bounds, he talks about bettering his world record and eventually reaching eight feet.
Stones started jumping as a grade schooler in Glendale and cleared seven feet in high school. He went on to UCLA, where he found that even after the Olympics he was still “only” a track star. As part of his financial aid program, the athletic department gave him a 7:30 a.m. groundskeeping job. “Basketball and football players got the soft jobs,” Stones grumbles, “And I was pulling up weeds and picking up trash. Kids would come up and say, ‘Aren’t you so-and-so?’ And here I was with this garbage poker. I was seething.”
Stones quit UCLA in his sophomore year. He joined the Pacific Coast Track Club last summer and is still with it, though he took another brief fling at higher education last September at Glendale Junior College. “I’m only here to set a junior college record in the high jump,” he announced. In January he did, and dropped out of school.
“I don’t need school,” he says, although last week he hinted at a reconciliation with UCLA. “I’ve had great job offers. I can make it off my name in sports. If coaching paid better, I would seriously consider it, but I plan to be a millionaire by 30.”
Stones adds that he has no plans to turn pro, “because I can’t take the cut in pay to go with pro track.” He is only half kidding. Under the antiprofessionalism rules that govern American amateur track, Stones of course can not get paid for jumping. But his living expenses, including car payments, are taken care of by the Pacific Coast Track Club as long, says club manager Tom Jennings, as “the athlete is performing and doing his best.”
Stones’ best is impressive and colorful enough to draw crowds and if his self-confidence turns to cockiness at times, he is still liked by most of the other athletes on the amateur tour.
And the blond, lanky (6’5″, 175 pounds) Stones is also admired by the track groupies who hang around the meets. When they showed up last summer, Stones was unprepared. “This summer will be different for me,” he says. “I won’t be twiddling my thumbs. They say average sex takes about the same energy as a 50-yard dash. For me, it’s more like a 220.” Stones gloats in the announcement. “Increased sexual activity and more meets just require more training, so I’m preparing. I’m going to be in tip-top shape when I leave for Europe this summer.”