Former state champ from South tries to reach new heights

Former Pueblo state high school pole vaulting champion Sam Pierson has qualified for the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championships this Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M.

Pierson, who won the Class 4A state title as a South High School senior in 2006, will jump against the top pole vaulters in the U.S. His qualifying mark was 17 feet, 11 inches, which he cleared last month in back-to-back meets at the Air Force Academy.

“This meet is a good training venue. It’ll bring the athletes up to speed in a national competition,” said Pierson, who has his sights set on the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials.

The country’s top 15 vaulters will be there, led by Mark Hollis of Elkhart, Ind., who has cleared 18-6 this year but has a personal best of 18-103/4. Pierson ranks ninth in the field.

Pierson set a Colorado 4A high school record with his 15-81/2 vault for South in 2006. He later was a two-time Big Sky champion at Idaho State and gained All-American honors with a sixth-place finish at the 2011 NCAA Division I indoor championships at 17-61/2. He is jumping unattached these days.

Pierson is in the midst of a comeback from a 2011 back injury that sidelined him until last summer. He returned as strong as ever, twice clearing the bar at 17-101/2 for his personal best.

He is confident that he’ll reach the 18-foot height. “I’ve been real close,” he said. “I’m healthy again, which is nice. My training program is making me strong. It just has to be the right day.”

A registered nurse, Pierson has focused exclusively on his vaulting with a January 2018 target date, when he must have cleared the qualifying mark of 18-81/2 to receive an invitation to the U.S. Olympic trials.

“The U.S. is struggling right now as far as competing internationally, but we have a lot of young guys who are making waves,” Pierson said. “This will be a good meet to be at … jumping together and (later) training together.”

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