On New Year’s Eve, Becky Holliday made a pact with herself: no adult beverages until after her Olympic experience.
The pole vaulter had been to the U.S. Track & Field Trials in 2004 and 2008, and both times had failed to make the three-woman team. This year, there would be no other meets, just trials. Her focus was squarely on the Summer Games in London and about 170 days of dedicated training. She would turn 32 before the trials, and this might be her last opportunity.
So, when it came time to celebrate on a cool, misty Sunday night, she stayed true to her word. An Olympic berth secured — and having realized a dream that was 15 years in the making — the 1998 Reed High graduate watched the people important to her celebrate through the orange glow of a bonfire in the backyard of the Eugene, Ore., home being rented by her coach.
“It was the perfect night,” the former Oregon Duck said Tuesday, two days after she took second with a vault of 14-feet, 11-inches at Oregon’s Hayward Field, joining medalist Jenn Suhr (15-1) and Lacy Janson (14-9) on the U.S. Olympic team. “Just a few friends, my coaches, trainers, everybody that’s been a part of this.
“I actually finally got to sleep around 3 o’clock. I was laying in bed for hours. I was actually exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was just so excited.”
She said she really didn’t sleep well at all in the last month.
“I’d close my eyes and all I could see is myself on the runway.”
A less-experienced athlete probably wouldn’t have handled the pressures so well. A less-experienced athlete probably wouldn’t have handled the windy conditions so well.
“The thing that Becky did great — experience is so invaluable — and the thing that Becky and Lacy did so well was dealing with the conditions,” said Jeff Hartwig, one of Holliday’s coaches who in 2002 was ranked No. 1 in the world. “One run the wind is behind you, and the next time it’s in your face. There were a couple times where she came over to me and said, ‘Wow, the wind really hit me.’”
A younger Holliday might not have made it through.
“You learn so much at all these trials,” said Holliday, whose family moved to Reno from Penryn, just east of Sacramento, in the early 1990s so Becky could train as an elite gymnast. “These team events, you learn something from every one of them, in technical events like the pole vault, it’s such a huge advantage. I knew it could be bad weather and it was. I know little tricks — how much to scoot back if the wind is at your back, how much to scoot up if it’s in your face — those exact little measurements. But in pole vaulting it comes down to a little bit of luck.”
When she cleared 14-11 (4.55 meters), Holliday, the 2003 NCAA champion, punched the air. She had nailed her target height.
“(My coach) thought 4.50, 4.55 was definitely going to be on the team,” she said. “As soon as I made the bar, I kind of knew. There was still a chance (another vaulter could pass her), but that was the height that was in my head going into the day.
“After that I couldn’t jump any more, I was so excited. Just making the team is all I wanted. I met my goal, and emotionally I was totally drained. I had been working at for such a long time.”
And that might explain why, on Aug. 6, the night of the women’s pole vault finals, she’ll likely join her coaches, trainers and friends in toasting her efforts.
“I might have to howl at the moon after that night,” she said.
But first she’ll try to touch it.
By Dan Hinxman