John Pennel


Class of: 1971

Sport: Track and Field

Team: AAU

School: Coral Gables High School
Northeast Louisiana State College

John Thomas Pennel was born on July 25, 1940 in Memphis, TN. He attended Coral Gables High School, where he competed as a member of the gymnastics and athletics teams. In 1959, John attended college at Northeast Louisiana State College on a track scholarship. After a tour with the AAU team, Pennel won the 1963 Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete. He competed in two Olympics, but sadly did not place for a medal due to various injuries. After a battle with a series of injuries, he eventually was forced to retire from competition in 1970. At the conclusion of his pole vaulting career, the former Olympian worked in marketing for Adidas and other companies, as well as appears in television commercials. In the early 1990s, Pennel was diagnosed with stomach and live cancer, which took his life at the age of 53. Posthumously, Pennel was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame. Over the course of his career, he was able to set eight world records, including his most famous record of being the first man to clear 17 feet.