Sport: Track & Field
Born: December 31, 1957
Franklin Jacobs was born December 31, 1957 in Mullins, South Carolina and moved north with his mother to Paterson in 1961, after his parents separated. Franklin lived with his cousins, who were big basketball players, and that became his sport as a boy. Always small for his age, Franklin topped out at 5’8”. However, his leaping ability made him a dunking, shot-blocking force on the North Jersey playgrounds and on the hardwood as a varsity guard for East Side High in the mid-1970s. When he jammed, he sometimes banged his head on the rim.
During Franklin’s senior year, East Side track coach Bill Shipp talked him into trying the high jump. He set the bar at 6’1”—an inch higher than anyone else on the team could clear—and Franklin glided effortlessly over the top. He turned and told his teammates that he thought he could clear seven feet. One year later, as a freshman at Fairleigh-Dickinson, he cleared 7’1”. That he was competing in college at all was a stoke of good fortune. Because he started so late in track & field, no college offered him an athletic scholarship. He attended FDU with help from a federal grant.
In 1977, Franklin won the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor titles. By 1978, 20-year-old he was threatening the world record of 7’7”—despite torn cartilage in his right knee. He began a heated rivalry with Dwight Stones, the top U.S. high jumper, as both men set their sights on gold at the 1980 Olympics. Though some labeled Franklin as a “natural” jumper, he worked tirelessly on every aspect of his technique. He used a unique jumping style he called The Slope. During one three-month period he concentrated entirely on his approach, never setting the bar higher than six feet.
In 1978, Franklin beat Stones at the Millrose Games in New York and set a new world record of 7’ 7 ¼” in the process. No one had ever jumped that high over his own “head” (23 ¼”).
In 1979, Franklin won gold medals at the Pan American Games and the World Cup. In 1980, he won the US National indoor and outdoor titles. The Summer Olympics in Moscow promised an epic head-to-head showdown with Russian high-jumper Vladimi Yaschchenko, who had broken Franklin’s Millrose record. When President Carter imposed a boycott on the 1980 Olympics, Franklin was so upset that he essentially quit the sport. He returned to Paterson, where he worked in construction, then moved to Arizona in the 1990s.