As a child, Jeff Hartwig never saw himself as a two-time Olympic pole vaulter. In fact, Hartwig’s athletic career started with several other sports. It was not until the eighth grade that the four-time U.S. national outdoor C\champion in pole vault realized his passion for the sport.
“I grew up playing the more traditional American sports like football and baseball. I didn’t like baseball at all because to me it was just a little too slow and boring,” Hartwig said. “When I was in the eighth grade, I started looking for something else to do and that’s when I turned to track.”
At the school in his hometown of St. Louis, Hartwig started on the team as a manager where he was able to observe some of the athletes.
“After watching some of the people on the team, I initially thought I wanted to do hurdles because they looked cool and I knew I wasn’t going to be fast enough to be a sprinter, but then I saw one of the pole vaulters,” Hartwig said.
The varying aspects of pole vault appealed to Hartwig. A record holder for both the outdoor and indoor American pole vault, Hartwig views the sport like a game of chess.
“Pole vault truly is like a game of chess because it involves as much mental skill as physical,” Hartwig said. “You have to be able to think and concentrate because you need to look and plan ahead.
“That has always been a draw for me because there are so many facets to it. On the one hand, you have to be strong and fast but have agility, gymnastic ability and good timing. It’s not just a pure power or speed event because there’s always something to work on.”
This work ethic and focus on several aspects is what Hartwig tried to teach to the young participants at the Maximum Velocity Track & Field Academy last week at Centre College. Hartwig served as the main coach for the pole vaulters.
As a returning coach, Hartwig was impressed with the camp this year.
“We’ve had a great turnout this year which has made it particularly great,” Hartwig said. “The pole vault has never been very popular in the state of Kentucky, but this year I’ve had more kids than I have in the past. As long as I keep getting invited back, I’ll be here every year.”
To the participants of the camp, Hartwig particularly stressed patience and perseverance.
“If you’re going to do pole vault, you have to be willing to give a long time commitment. You’re only going to improve a small bit at a time. Be patient, give it time and don’t give up,” Hartwig said.