PONTIAC — As pole vault star Emily Grove prepares to jet off to Barcelona, Spain, on Friday to compete in the IAAF World Junior Championships Tuesday through July 15, let’s take a moment to assess her talent.
The Pontiac 19-year-old has a lifetime best of 14 feet, 2 inches, which only 70 women worldwide have topped this year.
Among U.S. women, only 21 have gone higher. Among those under age 20, only four in the world have gone higher.
That last ranking has the University of South Dakota freshman hoping for a medal in Barcelona, where the qualifying round is on July 12 and the finals on July 14.
“I hope to jump a pretty decent bar,” Grove said. “There are four or five of us that are all pretty close so it will be a little battle I think.”
To be eligible for the World Juniors, athletes cannot turn 20 this calendar year. Entries won’t be finalized until 48 hours before the first round.
Grove goes in as the U.S. junior champion, a title she won by clearing 13-11 at Bloomington, Ind., on June 17.
The only juniors in the world ahead of her, according to the IAAF website, are Australia’s Liz Barnov (14-9), Sweden’s Angelica Bengtsson (14-9), Great Britain’s Katie Byres (14-3½) and Italy’s Roberta Bruni (14-3¼).
Grove’s cheering section in Barcelona will include two aunts.
“I’m hoping I will be able to go with them and look at some (tourist) things,” Grove said. “I’m really happy they are coming.”
A two-time state champion while at Pontiac where she set the Pantagraph area record of 13-5, Grove began training for this season last August.
“I have never had a season this long before,” she said. “I’ve been feeling pretty good, surprisingly, for how long I’ve been going.
“My legs are getting a little tired. That’s kind of expected. Other than that, I’m pretty healthy. I’m ready to go.”
Grove was more than ready in the NCAA Championships where she cleared 13-11½ to finish seventh and earn All-American honors. In the U.S. Olympic Trials, the opening height was 13-11 and she missed three times.
“I think I got some pretty decent attempts at it, which I can’t complain about, but it was really cool watching the big girls jump,” said Grove rattling off the names of Olympic qualifiers Jenn Suhr (15-1), Becky Holliday (14-11) and Lacy Janson (14-9).
“They are all nice, too. It was nice talking to them a little bit. It’s kind of crazy competing with them though.”
Grove hopes to return to the Olympic Trials in 2016 better able to compete.
“Four years is a long time from now so we’ll see,” said Grove, whose coach, Derek Miles, qualified for his third Olympic team last week.
Miles, whose best is 19-1, has had Grove lifting more than she did in high school. Many of his training drills promote explosiveness.
“He is really fun to be around,” Grove added. “Our whole group has a great dynamic. We always tease each other and just have a good time at practice — sometimes a little too much fun probably.”
Pushing Grove in practice is sophomore teammate Bethany Buell of St. Louis, an NCAA third-placer at 14-5½.
“She pushes me to the extreme so that’s really good,” Grove said. “I really like it. We’re good friends, too, so that helps.”
The past 12 months have helped Grove grow in ways few her age get the chance to.
“I’m just happy that I get to experience all the things I am as a freshman,” she said.
Contending for a world junior title would fit nicely into her collection of experiences.
By Randy Sharer