"Apres moi, le deluge."
The classic French words — "after me, the flood" — have been attributed, variably, to either King Louis XV, or Madame de Pompadour, for the past two and a half centuries.
Certainly not to Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, although that's exactly what many expected.
Yes/yes/yes, many/many/many track & field enthusiasts reckoned that Sotomayor's two epic high jumps — 2.44 meters, or exactly 8 feet, in 1989, and then 2.45 meters (8-0 1/2) in 1993 — would be followed by many more leaps in the 8-foot range in the seasons soon to follow.
You know, just as Roger Bannister's historic first-under-4 mile of 3:59.4 at Oxford on the 6th of May 1954 was followed by John Landy's 3:58.0, Derek Ibbotson's 3:57.2, and Herb Elliott's 3:54.5.
But while the list of sub-4 milers can now fill the pages of any high school kid's looseleaf notebook, the roster of 8-foot-plus high jumpers remains at exactly one.
The 24th anniversary of that first 8-footer of 'Soto' — achieved July 29, 1989, at the Caribbean Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico — is coming soon. His second 8-plus, the 2.45, came four years later, July 27, 1993, in Salamanca, Spain.
So the questions are obvious.
Why no more? Why the roadblock? Why the standstill? Why, after "Soto," no flood? The deluge? The track and field world still waits.
One explanation is perfectly obvious, sort of.
In a metrically-reckoning world — which is almost all the rest of the planet beyond America's sea-to-shining-sea — few even know or care or thinks about feet or inches.
But "we" still do. "We" still care. "We" still think 8 feet is one incredible leap for mankind.
And "we" still wonder why no other human has lofted himself over a bar that high.
Seeking an answer, we put the query to an impeccable source.
Two-time Olympian Hollis Conway (silver medalist at Seoul in 1988; bronze medalist at Barcelona in 1992) can tell you all about it.
He leapt against "Soto" too many times to count. He soared as high as 2.40 meters (7-10 1/2) taking the gold medal at the 1991 World Indoor Championships in Seville, Spain. Only four men — none an American — have ever jumped higher.
Conway's outdoor best of 2.39 (7-10) dates to 1989 — at the US Olympic Sports Festival at the University of Oklahoma. That 2.39 actually came one day after the 2.44 by "Soto" in San Juan.
He leapt at a bar placed 8 feet or higher time at least five or six times, but never cleared. Two dozen years later, just one American — Charles Austin, with his gold medal-success at 2.40 (7-10 1/2) at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games — has gone as high as Conway. The 46-year-old Louisianan still owns the NCAA indoor and outdoor meet records, both set two dozen years ago.
On the all-time USA performances list, Conway has 12 meet clearances of 2.36 (7-8 3/4), or better. Conway leads that list by far. With seven 2.36s or higher, Hall of Famer Austin is a not-so-close second.
So there was Hollis Conway in South New Jersey last weekend, as a faculty member at the Vertical Adventures On The Road World Tour track & field camp at Lenape High, doing his best to inspire a future generation of young leapers to emulate his own exploits.
"Sotomayor has had that record long enough; eventually, it (8 or more) will be done again," forecast Conway.
"And maybe pretty soon, maybe by a guy like (Bohdan) Bondarenko (of Ukraine, who soared 2.41 [7-11] in Lausanne July 4.)
"That was the world's highest in the last 19 years.
"He (Bondarenko) had some incredibly close jumps at 2.46 (or 8-1), too," said Conway, who'd seen the videos. "He was already on the back side of the bar. So eventually, we know it will be done."
And this time, unlike the last time, predicts Conway, "it will be done again and again and again."
High jumping may be a solo activity, but mass participation must always be the key to loftier and loftier leaping.
"Competition always makes it easier," said Conway. "You've got to make it a necessity, you've got to win the event before you can even think about setting records. And when there's intense competition, that's where everybody's jumping higher."
Led by Bondarenko — but with the likes of Qatar's Mutasz Essa Barshim, Russia's Ivan Ukhov and Andrey Silnov, Britain's Robby Grabarz, USA's Eric Kynard and Dusty Jonas and Canada's Derek Drouin nipping at his heels — the world high jump scene is once again intense.
Barshim has cleared 2.40, Ukhov 2.39, Silnov, Grabarz and Kynard 2.37, and Jonas and Drouin 2.36. Something's got to give — at the upcoming World Championships in Moscow, and at every major meet before and after the Worlds.
Yes, it could be those "Soto" performances that, after all these years, actually give.
With three daughters currently in the sport, Conway pays close attention to the track and field scene.
Eldest daughter Tarvia is a senior at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and a 41-10 1/2 triple jumper. Middle daughter Holli is a 5-4 freshman high jumper at Northwestern State University. And their kid sister, Angelique, is a high school freshman who has already done 4-10 in the high jump and 32 feet in the triple jump at Ouachita High.
"The tougher it gets in any athletic competition, the better performances you'll always see," Conway emphasizes.
"When I was coming up, there were always eight to 10 other Americans jumping 7-7 or 7-8. And a bunch of other guys from other countries jumping 7-9 or 7-10. You had to jump that high just to place. It was the norm."
Conway can recite the names of those illustrious contemporaries: Americans Charles Austin, Doug Nordquist, Jimmy Howard, Brian Stanton, Jerome Carter, Brian Brown, Tom McCants, Kenny Banks, Tony Barton and more. International rivals Sotomayor, Patrik Sjoberg (of Sweden), (Igor) Paklin and (Rudolf) Povarnitsyn (Russia), Artur Partkya (Poland) Sorin Matei (Rumania), Dalton Grant and Steve Smith (Great Britain), et al.
"There were plenty of guys, guys who were even jumping 7-6 in warmups. Guys all jumping 7-6 1/2 or 7-8 every meet there was. It was a different world.
"At the (1991) World Indoor Championships, Artur Partyka actually cleared 7-9 1/2 on his first attempt; I did it on my second, so I had to do my (2.40) 7-10 1/2 just to win."
One of Conway's closest brushes with an 8-foot jump came at the 1989 NCAA Championships (at altitude) in Provo, Utah.
"I kind of got my shoulders over it," he remembers. But not much more. "All these years later, it (8 feet) is still kind of intimidating. Just as, I guess. 7 feet was intimidating for so long, until Charley Dumas finally did it in 1956."
Those glory high jumping years of the late 1980s and 1990s weren't immediately replicated.
"As we got older, it seemed there were not a lot of guys coming up behind us," said Conway. "So the standard was lowered, for quite a few years.
"You could go to the American championships and do 7-4 and make the finals; you could do 7-5 and make the team."
The recognition factor was a big part of it.
To Conway, noting the lack of attention his sport now seems to earn in the USA is a definite downer. He sees the pro football players, and the basketballers, and their pro-sport partners, hogging the headlines, virtually the year-round. He also tells you that many of those focusing on the other sports would have been incredible track performers.
"I went to college in Lafayette, the same college my oldest daughter is at now. I grew up in Shreveport. Every year, there were two or three guys who jumped 7 feet or better. And that was just from my own town.
"They were in the (news)papers every week. They got a lot of recognition, but that's not happening now and it's unfortunate.
"The other sports are taking over. Not just basketball and football. But soccer and tennis and golf and even NASCAR. There's no room left on the sports pages, or on the TV news, after that. It's a shame.
"Kids see the fame, they see the money those other guys are getting. So those kids get lost to track. There's too little awareness of track. Except in Olympic years, when we gets tons of coverage; maybe when the World Championships come around, but not much more.
"Then, when the drug stories come out, we get all this negative press. So it's tough, it really is. We're always fighting these challenges.
"That's why things like this (the Vertical Adventures camp) are very important. Kids get to meet, and be coached, by the people who've really done it, who've been successful.
"That makes it exciting for all of them, they bring it back to their own schools, that's what helps keep it all going. This helps build it from the ground up."
Thus, Conway recognizes that "it's the responsibility of people like me to give back, to keep the sport growing."
Vertical Adventures camp's founder and guiding light is Mike Pascuzzo, the former 7-5 1/2 high jumper and University of Maryland standout and Olympic Trials veteran. The faculty, beyond Conway includes such notables as two-time Olympic high hurdles champion Roger Kingdom, Olympic 400 hurdles champion Andre Phillips, Thomas Jefferson (4x100 relay gold medalist), Carol Lewis Zilli, Lawrence Johnson, Rob Muzzio, Knut Hjeltnes, Norman Tate, Benn Fields, Ringo Adamson, Frank Harrison, Brian Chaput and Jon Kalnas.
Between coaching sessions, Conway tells you, "Sotomayor was extremely strong and extremely fast. He could squat with 660 pounds. He had almost world-class 300 (meter) speed. He was a very gifted athlete.
"He started young, too. I heard he was jumping something like 7-8 when he was 14 years old. On top of that, he was a supreme competitor. He didn't just go in there to jump high. He went in there to win every meet.
"We went to so many meets together; we got to know each other real well. He spoke a little bit of English and I spoke a little bit of Spanish. But we always understood each other.
"I'd usually compete 33 to 35 times a year. It was a like a fraternity, a brotherhood."
But 8-footer "Soto" was always its main man.
"It's time for someone else to join (the 8-foot club)," Conway knows. "And when someone else finally does it, maybe there will be a succession of others doing it. Who knows?
"The jumper who does it will need to have extreme confidence and the physicality to do it. Some great coaching, too."
Something else he's sure of: personal height doesn't always translate to "the physicality to do it."
Conway stands just 6 feet and a quarter inch, and that ranks third on all-time height-over-head list.
This is a list topped by Fairleigh Dickinson University grad Franklin Jacobs' 2.32 (7-7 1/4) clearance at the 1978 Millrose Games, or 59 centimeters over his head. Thirty-plus years later, that mark was matched by Sweden's Stefan Holm.
Back in Louisiana, Conway serves as an area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and he's in constant demand as an motivational speaker.
A torn patella tendon in 1995 wrecked his chances of making his third Olympic team, in 1996, and he said farewell to the competitive whirl in 2000.
Let it be said his life story has been one heck of a vertical adventure.