Soon after Bragg retired, flexible fiberglass poles were introduced, rewarding superior technique as well as strength and speed. Those poles, which can bend 90 degrees, act like slingshots, catapulting vaulters to heights far beyond those possible with the poles used by Cornelius Warmerdam, the first vaulter to clear 15 feet, and Bragg.
“If pro track had come along after 1960, I never would have retired,” Bragg once said. “But I couldn’t see learning how to vault all over again with the new poles just to win another medal.”
He broke the world indoor record, set 16 years earlier by Warmerdam, when he vaulted 15 feet 9½ inches on Feb. 13, 1959, at Convention Hall in Philadelphia. That vault eclipsed Warmerdam’s mark by a full inch. He set a world outdoor record by vaulting 15 feet 9¼ inches at the Olympic trials at Stanford Stadium in July 1960.
Bragg carried his poles in canvas cases marked “Don (Tarzan) Bragg,” a flourish that evoked ribbing. “The Californians would always try to psych me out at their home meets,” he remembered. “They’d put a comic-book cover on my locker bearing a likeness of Tarzan and a chimpanzee, and the chimp would be saying, ‘Me Bragg, you Tarzan.’”
He had several chances to play Tarzan in the movies after he retired from the pole vault, but twice lost roles because of injuries and once saw a prospective film fall victim to a copyright-infringement dispute.
Donald George Bragg was born on May 15, 1935, in Penns Grove, N.J., one of four children of George Bragg, who did construction work for DuPont, and Jean (McCoy) Bragg, a homemaker.
Bragg and his wife operated a summer camp for boys in Chatsworth, N.J., in the 1960s and ’70s that concentrated on remedial reading and mathematics. He was the athletic director at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (now Stockton University) in Pomona in the ’70s and ’80s and invested in real estate. But then came hard times.