Many rope climbers were specialists although some competed in other events, especially the rings. The event required the climber to take a sitting position on the floor with a 20 ft. rope that hung from the ceiling in his hands. There were a minimum of three timers, and the event began when a starting sound was made, usually a bat banged against the gym floor. The climber raced to the top and touched a metal panel covered with soot, and the timers stopped their watches. The climber, on descending, would show evidence that the top was reached by showing the soot on his fingertip(s). On at least one occasion, Don Perry showed the soot on his hand, the timers checked their watches and a new world record of 2.8 seconds was established. It is a record that will never be broken because the event is no longer contested. Don competed during the late 1940’s through 1955 when he won the RC in the Pan Am Games. It is believed the Pan Ams was Don’s last competition. There is unofficial evidence that two others equaled but never beat this record.
The Olympic rope-climb event was for the 25 ft. rope, and the Olympic record that will never be broken is 6.7 seconds. Considering the five-foot difference between the Olympic rope’s height and Don’s performances with the rope at a 20 ft. height, Don’s speed was truly remarkable. History: The rope climb event was popular for many years until several American participants began winning every meet, nationally and internationally, stimulating the wrath of the rest of the world to the extent that the event was dropped from high school, college, national, and international meets in, I believe, the 1960’s. American’s Don Perry was the fastest man alive vertically. He was a rope climber from his start at Venice High School in Los Angeles under coach Hughes. In Don’s words to a friend, he competed in 95 meets during his rope-climbing career and was never defeated. Pan American Games: Gold-RC in 2.9 seconds, Mexico City, Mexico, (1955). Don won this meet after a three-day bout with flu-like symptoms. NCAA Championships: Gold-RC, (1953 & ’54) competing for UCLA. National AAU Championships: Gold-RC, (1948, ’49, ’50, & ’54) Don was a junior and then a senior in high school when he garnered his first and second national championships. He was close to his eventual world record in high school posting a best winning time of 3.1 seconds. Then he really became fast. General: Don served in the military in Japan between high school and college. Having seen Don climb, I will comment that it was an unbelievable experience. His body hung almost vertical and showed tremendous rhythm as one arm pulled one hand almost a full arm span, his other arm would grasp the rope and repeat the process. I can’t be sure, but Don appeared to take only four or five strides striking the top panel at full length. A friend with whom I was watching the event said, “I think he goes up as fast as a falling body comes down.” That was Don! His 95 and 0 record still stands albeit not official. Don, why not an even 100?
Sources: NCAA, AAU, & Pan American Games official records plus the courteous help of Abie Grossfeld, 1979 USGHOF Inductee, who was Don’s teammate in Mexico City. Photos courtesy of Jerry Wright, author of Gymnastics Who’s Who, 2005. Introduction, commentary and formatting by Dr. Larry Banner, Web Manager.