Bill Wambach's nervousness gave him away.

Lorette Wambach already knew Saturday there would be no gray area when her 80-year-old husband attempted to set a national record in the high jump during Sunday's Badger State Games track and field competition at Mansfield Stadium.

"It was either he was going to do it really great or fall flat on his face, because I've never seen him so upset as he was (Saturday)," Lorette said. "He wouldn't even answer the phone anymore. He was nervous and thinking, 'All this hype and I'm not going to even make 4 feet,' and he's made 4 feet a number of times."

On Sunday, Bill Wambach pushed aside that nervousness listening to music and doing stretching exercises before he finally had his quest to enter the record books realized.

"Some days you've got it and some days you don't," he said.

He had it Sunday. Wambach, a retired district highway engineer who's lived in Sun Prairie since 1978, didn't just match the USA Track and Field masters mark of 1.22 meters (or 4 feet) in the 80-to 84-year-old division.

The former Marquette University athlete broke it -- his final successful height was 1.26 meters or 4 feet, 1 inches, according to USA Track and Field representatives.

He did it using his preferred western roll style, not the more common back-first Fosbury flop form, which doesn't agree with back problems he's had since the 1970s.

He did it to the applause of family -- including son Bill Wambach and daughter Marti Fechner -- and BSG competitors who surrounded the high jump pit to witness his bid.

"All week it was driving me nuts because nobody has ever paid any attention to me before and I hadn't done it yet," he said of media attention before Sunday. "That's why I feel so fortunate and blessed that my back feels OK and everything was cool and I did it."

Wambach -- after clearing 3-10 -- tied the national mark of 1.22 meters (4 feet) set by Virgil McIntyre of Arizona in 1991.

Then at 11:15 a.m., he cleared 1.24 meters (4 feet, -inch) on his first try -- clapping his hands on the landing mat when he knew the bar was still standing despite a slight nudge. "I thought, 'Down it's going,' " said Wambach, clutching the document he will have to send in for certification of the record.

He improved his mark when he cleared 1.26 meters on his first attempt at that height, patting his head with joy after landing on the mat.

Wambach, who missed three attempts at 1.28 meters, said he never gave a thought to the masters world record of 1.34 meters set by Austrian Emmerich Zensch in 2000, though noting he cleared that height five years ago.

"I can't believe this," said Wambach, who thought he had the record last September in Milwaukee when he cleared 4 feet, inches at the Wisconsin Senior Olympics only to learn the meet wasn't certified.

He once high-jumped 6-2 in the 1940s at Marquette, but said: "I made my letter (at Marquette), but I wasn't all that good. I've said this (before), 'I just outlived all the good guys.' "

Don Bauer read about his former college teammate's attempt while he was in Milwaukee last week and made sure he stopped in Madison Sunday on the return trip to his home near La Crosse.

"I thought, 'I've got to come,' " the 78-year-old Bauer said. "First, to wish him luck and, secondly, to renew acquaintances."

Bauer even conferred with Wambach about his approach before some jumps. Wambach, who often practices at Sun Prairie High School, clearly was prepared, his jump-roping routine beginning six weeks ago. He does stretching exercises for 40 to 45 minutes every day and also bicycles, walks, plays basketball, uses the treadmill and participates in cross-country skiing.

Wambach, who had an angioplasty in 2003, joked he doesn't look too far ahead, saying, "We don't even buy green bananas." But he said he competes "because I can. I'm so happy that I still have my health."

His competitive fire might drive his wife crazy -- "She does not like to compete, that's why she thinks I'm nuts," he said -- but he credits Lorette, a retired nurse, with teaching him about healthy eating.

"We are both very blessed with very good health," said Lorette Wambach, who's 79. "I guess moderation is what I've said we need to do. As far as being active, we feel better if we are active. We still bike and golf kind of poorly, but we still golf. We keep reminding ourselves we are (80 or) pushing 80 and it's not all that bad."

Not bad at all.

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