High bars and lofty goals: Post-ISU, Mike Arnold’s aspirations turn towards the Olympics

It’s the middle of the day, the temperature is 90 degrees, the sky is clear and the sun beats down without forgiveness.

Mike Arnold sits down for an interview with his black backpack resting to his left. The bag houses lists of goals, both those in the past, present and future. There are goals going back to when he was a freshman pole vaulter at Idaho State University.

    Some were easier to achieve than others and a few are grand, so grand Arnold may never reach them. But at this point, there’s no reason to believe he won’t.

    Arnold’s goals are more than arbitrary milestones listed on paper. They’re steps along on a path to his dream that he fully intends to realize.

    That’s why in the middle of the week, when heat dictates that anywhere with air conditioning is preferable to Davis Field, Arnold is training.

    “I take a lot of pride in setting my goals high,” he said. “Because I do, I really do. I push myself to do really well.”

    Some of the goals written down in Arnold’s black bag are of the short-term variety, and a few are far off down the road. Others can be crossed off.

    In fact, considering Arnold just finished up his fourth-year of college eligibility, it’s probably time the Carson City, Nev., native takes a moment to look back on his track and field career for the Bengals.

    He won six Big Sky pole vaulting championships starting when he was a freshman in 2009. And as a fifth-year senior, Arnold, in his fourth trip to the NCAA Division I Championships, placed seventh in the nation, earning All-American status for the first time in his career earlier this month.

    “Out of his eight opportunities to win a conference title, he’s won six of them,” said ISU track and field head coach Dave Nielsen. “There’s no one that touches that. … He’s just so consistent at a high level no one touched that either.

    “Really, he’s by far the best vaulter this conference has ever seen.”

    And it’s all arrived via one simple plan: Work hard.

    Those two words, though simple, are multi-layered. The plan calls for complete dedication that encompasses not just vaulting, but diet, sleep, sprints, deadlifts, pushups, crunches, veggies, mounds of veggies actually, salmon, no fried food, fast food is out of the question, water when he wakes up, water during the day, water before he goes to bed and hours heaped upon hours of time spent at the track perfecting his craft.

    And it’s full time. The college track and field season lasts from January through June, but Arnold’s strict diet and training regimen is 12 months long.

    It’s a life of dedication to a discipline that requires athletes to hone every minute detail to a razor’s edge so they can clear another inch, soar a little higher.

    The difference between an All-American — by its definition, someone who is one the nation’s very best in college track and field — and an average vaulter? Hard work.

    But Arnold hasn’t been alone while undertaking his goals. He entered the Bengal program in a golden age for pole vaulting with 22 Big Sky pole vaulting titles since the turn of the decade.

    Arnold learned the craft from Bengals like Paul Litchfield, Levi Keller and Sam Pierson, all former champions themselves.

    “I knew if I could hang with them I could jump with the best in the nation, best in the world,” Arnold said.

    The confidence gained from vaulting with the best group in the conference boosted Arnold to new heights. But even with the great career, he’s still dealt with disappointments. He didn’t make the state meet in pole vault as a junior in high school, he didn’t reach the Indoor NCAA Championships his senior season and, most recently, Arnold came up just short of qualifying for the 2013 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa., a meet where athletes can qualify to represent the U.S. at the World Championships.

    It was a goal Arnold failed to reach, if only by the slimmest — he says by one or two centimeters — of margins. With every one of those setbacks, however, Arnold has always emerged with only greater determination.

    And now that Arnold’s college career is over, he has his sights clearly set on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He’ll train in Pocatello while pursuing his masters, and he might join the Bengals’ coaching staff, too.

    “I’m going to go into next year’s season more driven, I think, because I didn’t make it,” he said. “I’ll put all the effort I can into training, and make sure this never happens again.

    “And you never know, I could come out on top. I could win it, make a world team, make an Olympic team. But now it’s time to put in some more work and just go for it.”

Doug Lindley
Mike Arnold


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