For Keisa Monterola, the distance from Cheney to London is 3 centimeters, or barely an inch.
For that inch, she’s already gone the extra mile – tens of thousands of them – in pursuit of an Olympic dream that began in Venezuela and continues at Eastern Washington University, where last week she set a another school record in the pole vault.
“I just love the feeling of the adrenaline, the excitement of going high,” Monterola said Monday at Roos Field.
Her mark of 14 feet at the Pelleur Invitational qualifies her for the Big Sky Conference outdoor meet and the NCAA West Regionals, and puts her in the top 10 in Division I.
“It was really exciting,” said Monterola of her first outdoor meet of the season. “I wasn’t expecting to do that great because it was so windy.”
Earlier this year at the NCAA indoors she cleared 14-11/4 – good for fifth in and first-team All-American honors. In January in Seattle, she hit a personal-best of 14-4.
It’s that mark which has her mind soaring too, wondering what it would be like to march into Olympic Stadium in London on July 27 behind the Venezuelan flag.
“That’s what I can’t wait to find out,” said Monterola, whose national federation has promised her a spot on the team if she meets the Olympic-B standard of 14-51/4.
A day after speaking those words, she flew to Buenos Aires – 13,000 miles round-trip – for a Grand Prix meet that promises better weather and better competition as she searches for those 3 centimeters.
If she falls short, there will be more tries all the way to July. “She’s been over it a few times, she just has to have the bar stay up afterward,” EWU pole vault coach Eric Allison said.
Life keeps raising the bar, and Monterola couldn’t be happier.
Growing up in a sports-obsessed family in Caracas, her restlessness was calmed first in the swimming pool, then through gymnastics, her father’s favorite sport. She liked to fly and loved the vault, and was on the verge of making the national team before injuries and a growth spurt took their toll.
Enter Alexander Radchich, a Russian who already coached Ricardo Diez to a Venezuelan record.
“He was recruiting gymnasts for the pole vault,” Monterola said. “I had no idea. I thought it had something to do with the water.”
In 2000, women’s pole vaulting was new to the Olympics, and Monterola’s dream took off. At age 12, she cleared 8-9 in her first competition.
“Jumping made me scared and excited at the same time,” she said.
By 2005, Monterola won her nation’s first medal at a world event and by 2008 was ready to raise the bar again.
“I was ready for the Olympics, but my coach had to leave Venezuela …” Her voice trailed off.
“Getting impatient,” she used her contacts to reach University of Washington vault coach Pat Licari, and spent several months adjusting to America – and the English language.
But unfortunately she no-heighted the SAT, so Monterola returned home, but was pulled back to the United States. She was steered toward Clackamas Community College near Portland, where in 2009 she won the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges title with a vault of 12-81/4.
At the same time, she took intense English-language courses and speaks almost fluently.
In her redshirt season in 2010, she won the Central American and Caribbean Games with a vault of 13-91/4. Last year at CCC she repeated as NWAACC champ with a mark of 14-21/2.
The transition to a four-year school was easy. Allison had seen Monterola in 2008 at UW, and also knew CCC vault coach Rick Baggett.
“He’s been real supportive of us, and fortunately we were the next choice on her list and his list,” Allison said.
Now he and Monterola are working on the same list: the Big Sky meet next weekend in Bozeman, the NCAA West Regionals May 24-26, the NCAA nationals on June 6-9 … and the Olympics.
At the Pelleur, Ellison also saw Eagles vaulter Robin Taylor hit a personal record with a jump of 13-01/4, also a regional qualifying mark. Amber Troyer qualified for the Big Sky championships with a mark at 11-61/2.
“The success has been on its way (for the vaulters),” Allison said. “It’s just fun to see it finally happen and it to all come together.”
The move to Eastern has been eased by her teammates, who jokingly call her “The Olympian,” and by the coaching staff. Monterola, also an 18-foot long jumper, said she was touched when Ellison presented her with an Eagle pin after she set the indoor pole vault record.
For now, Monterola is barely in the outdoor season, “working with new poles, getting used to them. The whole year I’ve been working on my technique.”
And looking for that extra inch.
By: Jim Allen