One after another, a group of kids sprint down the pole vault runway at the ‘Jump N Shout’ facility, plant their pole into the ground and launch themselves skyward over the bar. As each person takes his or her turn, 13-year-old Mikayla Linebarger stands shyly at the back of the line. Once it is her turn, her timid exterior vanishes.
Standing at the starting line, Linebarger takes a deep breath, thinks through a list of improvements to make to her vault, then races toward the bar, pole held high and her eyes set on the vault box. As she nears the bar, Linebarger drives her pole into the box, sending herself curving up and over the unaffected bar. She makes it look as though she’s been doing it her whole life. Surprisingly, the 13-year-old has just over a year of experience. Despite her infancy in the sport, Linebarger’s impact is already being felt around the pole vault world.
On Dec. 1, Linebarger and a pair of teammates on the ‘Raise The Bar Pole Vault Club’ along with coach Randy Bryant traveled to Boise, Idaho for the Jackson Open at Boise State University. Competing against a field that was made up of mainly college athletes, Linebarger, an eighth grader at Sparks’ Mendive Middle School, cleared the bar at 12-feet 1.5 inches, breaking the American 13-14 age group national record of 11-feet 5.75-inches.
Although Linebarger did not know she was going for a national mark because she said she prefers not to know the height of the bar before a vault, there was no mistaking what she had just accomplished based on the roar from the crowd.
“I heard it,” she said. “I don’t really know how to describe it. I knew what the national record before that was, but I don’t really pay attention to the height of the bar. It was pretty cool to do it.”
While Linebarger may not have known what she was going for as she started her approach, her coach knew she was completely up to the feat.
“She did really well locally and on the region levels over the summer and then we went to nationals in Baltimore and we knew the age group record, but it wasn’t really a goal or a vision at that time,” Bryant said. “She progressed really fast though and jumped a personal record in Baltimore at 10-6. Then we got back from Baltimore where she jumped 10-6 and took second place in her age group, and in five practices in a row she PR’d. She went from 10-6 to 11-9. Not even five weeks. Five practices. She just kept going up and up and up. That’s when we started going ‘Wow.’”
Now with a national record already under her belt, Linebarger is aiming for the world record for the age of 13, 12-feet 11.5-inches. Bryant believes the record set in Boise could just be the beginning of things to come for Linebarger.
“She’s still just a baby when it comes to experience,” he said. “The reality of stuff is just hitting her so fast that quite honestly I haven’t even talked to her about it. If you were to compare her to other Olympians, she’s way ahead of them.
“We just take it day by day. She’s still learning and the reality of where she can go with this is still new for her. Only at 13, she’s just got so much ahead of her. The sky is the limit. It’s all about having fun right now.”
Linebarger has aspirations of pole-vaulting for the University of Oregon and one day representing the United States of America in the Olympic Games. For now though, her focus is squarely on setting a new world mark for her age.
“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind since I found out, even during the summer. Just to know that I can make a difference is pretty cool.”