Closeup/Sports

Getting high

Where Greg Joy goes, few men can follow

Michael Posner February 20 1978
Closeup/Sports

Getting high

Where Greg Joy goes, few men can follow

Michael Posner February 20 1978

Getting high

Closeup/Sports

Where Greg Joy goes, few men can follow

Michael Posner

The orange rim of a regulation basketball hoop is 10 feet above the floor. Jumping, a man of aver-

height

in average physical condition may be able to touch the netting. A taller man might even strike the rim with his fingers. But Gregory Andrew Joy, who is not a basketball player but a high jumper, can do what scarcely seems possible: he can spring five feet straight up in the air so that his chest is level with the hoop. So far as is known, Greg Joy, 21, is the only man in the world who can do this.

“Only” is a word that appears frequently in stories about Canada’s Olympic class athletes because there are so few of them. Still fewer have any real chance for medals. The number of those who actually win medals would not tax the counting ability of a three-year-old. It’s a very small circle.

Greg Joy belongs to it. At the Montreal Olympics, he was the only Canadian to win any kind of medal—his was silver—in track and field. A month ago, he became the first man in history to high jump seven feet seven inches indoors—a record that was eclipsed just two weeks later when a New Jersey college student, Franklin Jacobs, leaped seven feet 7VA inches in a New York meet where Joy failed at seven-six. Joy was, however briefly, the first Canadian in more than a decade to carry a world record in his Puma bag. He’s determined to get it back.

Greg Joy does not walk—he bounds. On

a miserable January morning he bounds into the lobby of Toronto’s Chelsea Inn and shakes the hand of a man he has not met before. His grip calls to mind what a cast-iron vice can do to sheet metal. Joy stands six feet four inches and weighs 170 pounds. He is wide at the shoulders, the result of an intense weightlifting program, and narrow at the hips, the result of genetics. The brows of people who stare at him in the lobby seem to pinch in puzzlement. They have seen this face before but cannot place it. Unless they do Mars bars commercials, Canadian amateur athletes seldom become household words.

Joy talks easily and with confidence. “The world record was really a great relief to me. I’ve been training for it for so long, six to eight hours a day, six days a week. At the Maryland meet I jumped seven feet five inches and then I passed at seven-six. That was the highest pass in the history of jumping. The crowd couldn’t believe it. Nobody does that.”

Nobody does a few other things that Greg Joy is fond of doing, such as being his own coach. His training regimen is entirely self-planned. Six days a week, Joy rises from a heated, king-size waterbed in his one-bedroom Miami apartment and downs three soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. Mondays and Fridays he weightlifts; Tuesdays and Thursdays he works on run-

ning; Wednesdays he devotes to areas of weakness. He begins every day with a twomile jog, then moves into several hours of stretching exercises, sprint drills, jumping routines, more jogging, more limbering.

“You must be very fit,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “But all of that is just the morning. Then in the afternoon . . .” Joy takes one day off—Sunday. He relaxes by going swimming with his girl friend, a Miami nurse who lives across the hall.

Joy’s diet is as disciplined as his body. It’s high in protein—fruit for lunch, steak for dinner. The day of a competition, he takes the “carbohydrate rush,” a gourmand’s orgy of pancakes and syrup. The day of his Olympic silver medal victory, Joy’s energizing breakfast included seven pancakes, seven eggs, seven strips of bacon and seven glasses of milk.

Greg Joy spent the first nine years of his life in Portland, Oregon, where his father ran a gas station and later a beer parlor. An only child, he had natural athletic ability and played several sports well. The first time he high jumped, in grade eight, he leaped five feet four inches, a height that made him instantly the best jumper in the school. The following year he reached six feet and he just kept improving.

Later, the family moved to Vancouver. At Vancouver Technical Secondary School, Joy played basketball and baseball, but preferred track and field. “If I fail,

I want it to be my fault. It’s not my thing to

rely on other people. I’d rather rely on myself. I’d say I’m 100% responsible for getting where I am.”

Because he is talented—and frank about his talents—he has been labeled arrogant and conceited. Because he believes in Christ, he has been termed a militant Christian athlete, an earnest proselytizer. And because, like all amateur athletes in Canada, he does not enjoy being poor, he has been called a complainer, as though athletes, even silver medalists, should bear the burden of poverty silently and accept meagre government handouts with oleaginous thanks.

Greg Joy will not conform to other people’s expectations. He is among the top three or four high jumpers in history and not meek about saying so. “I believe I’ve got a lot of potential. I don’t know how high I can go. I’ve been told that with my style, which is based on power, I could go as high as eight feet. That’s four and a quarter inches higher than anybody else. But you really can’t predict.”^

No less candid about his Christianity, Joy affirms that religion is a major influence on his life and that occasionally, when he is feeling down, he reads the Bible. “Why not? It’s a good book. But I don’t go to church, I don’t belong to religious groups, and I don’t think it’s my position to sell religion. Other people aren’t going to change their ways because I recommend it.

“I don’t think of religion during a competition. The high jump is a very material event. Everything is in front of you. Either the bar stays up or it falls. It’s not a matter of faith.”

The subject of money is more sensitive. A sports equipment manufacturer, Puma, freely provides Greg Joy with track shoes, track suits, T-shirts, gym bags, virtually everything he needs. As of this month, he will receive $265 a month from Ottawa; it will cover the rental costs of his apartment and furniture. He also draws a monthly allowance from a trust fund set up for him by Ottawa lawyer Sheldon Wiseman, who approached Joy after the Olympics, told him the silver medal jump was one of the most exciting things he had ever seen, and asked how he could help.

And then there is the matter of underthe-table payments, given to amateur athletes by track meet sponsors anxious to lure big names. Greg Joy will not talk about these “incentives.” He will not confirm or deny that they are commonplace, nor that he has accepted them. Of course, to admit to accepting even five dollars would disqualify him as an amateur and end his current hope of winning the Olympic gold medal in Moscow in 1980. In fact, of course, under-the-table payment is a sport all its own. Everyone plays by the rules. Amateur officials are careful not to see it because they know the athletes need the

money, the sponsors need the athletes, and the government can’t hope to fund Canadian Olympic hopefuls as the Soviets and East Germans do. The athletes know it’s illegal, but they also know that, short of passing the envelope on the victory podium, no one is going to set up a royal commission of investigation.

In the meantime, Greg Joy, former world indoor record holder, must now prove he has the mettle to win it back. He intends to, just as he intends to take aim later this year at the world outdoor mark of seven feet V/A inches set last summer by Soviet teen-ager Vladimir Yaschenko.

Everything about his past accomplishments, his resolute setting and reaching of goals, suggests that what Greg Joy believes in sooner or later comes true.&^