Air Force pole vaulter Cale Simmons becomes unlikely star

Air Force had little reason to believe the skinny high school kid from California – with an emphasis on skinny – would have a shot to make the Olympics in the pole vault someday.

Cale Simmons admits he isn’t as stout as the typical pole vaulter. He is about 6 feet tall and weighs “a buck-42,” as Falcons pole vault coach Scott Steffan says.

“It’s true,” Simmons says with a laugh.

“I joke with him that he’s the only vaulter in the country who the pole is bigger than he is,” Steffan said.

Simmons may lack bulk, but he has become one of the best pole vaulters in the country for Air Force.

At the Texas Relays during the last week of March, Simmons’ vault of 18 feet and a half-inch was a milestone. That tied an academy record. It was the third-best vault in Mountain West history. No Falcon had cleared 18 feet since 2004. Going into this weekend’s events, it was the best mark in the conference and the third best in the nation.

“It was probably the coolest 2 seconds of my life,” Simmons said.

At Rocklin (Calif.) High School he was vaulting about 16 feet, and Air Force’s coaches certainly didn’t figure he’d be passing the rarified 18-foot mark for the Falcons. And he’s just a junior – the Falcons coaches think he could go well beyond 18 feet by the time his Air Force career is finished.

“I see the ability to jump 18-6,” Steffan said, understanding that mark would give Simmons a shot at an NCAA championship.

Simmons’ rise from a promising but not great high school recruit to elite college track athlete shows the imprecise nature of predicting a prep athlete’s upside at the next level.

Although Simmons isn’t physically imposing, he has some skills that make him a great pole vaulter. He and his coach agree that his speed helps him tremendously, allowing him to be explosive through his vault. They also agree he is deceptively strong for his size.

Steffan thinks one of Simmons’ strengths is his body control. That is an asset in pole vaulting.

Simmons gave a lot of credit to his twin brother, Rob. Rob Simmons is also a pole vaulter at Air Force, although injuries have held back his athletic career at the academy. He said having his brother to offer advice and push him has been invaluable.

“It’s great having someone doing the same thing you’re doing 20 feet away,” Cale Simmons said.

Simmons’ rise has reset his goals in pole vaulting. He is planning on competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Eugene, Ore., on June 28. The odds of making the Olympic team this year are probably against Simmons, but he can’t be counted out.

“Stranger things have happened,” Steffan said.

He might have a better chance of qualifying in 2016. Simmons could be accepted into Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program, which allows graduated cadets to train for international competition. To even realistically consider an Olympic chance is pretty stunning for Simmons.

“If I had to think about it in high school, I’d think people were telling me crazy things,” Simmons said. “I never envisioned myself jumping this high.”


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