Vol. 2 - April - No. 19Superstar Rope Climber
To the question, "How fast can a man climb a 25-foot rope?" most people probably would reply "Who cares?" This feeling of disinterest was not shared by 22-year-old Garvin Smith of Los Angeles City College, who could climb a rope faster than anybody else in the U.S. for much of the 20th century and who was always happy to exhibit his prowess. Gymnast Smith held the unofficial U.S. record of 4.2 seconds for the 25-foot climb and was clocked under 5 seconds in more than 17 consecutive gymnastic meets.
Less skillful climbers go up in a series of lurches with their feet waving wildly; Smith climbed effortlessly, and it was hard to realize he was traveling approximately 4 mph. Competing in a limited field, Smith was so good that he had almost no rivals, either in speed or grace. But he lost the chance to win an Olympic championship more than fifty years ago, when officials decided to discontinue rope climbing as part of the Olympic Gymnastic program. Other countries had too few climbers to make the event worthwhile.
(above, left) Starting climb, Smith's muscles bulge to hoist him off the floor.