Stephanie Duffy had just won the women’s competition Saturday at Jacksonville’s first Street Vault, a pole vault competition that happened in a rather strange place: in the middle of Hogan Street next to The Jacksonville Landing.
Duffy, a 25-year-old third-grade teacher from Tampa, was clearly delighted. But her delight wasn’t because she’d won. What made her happy was spending two hours hanging out with vaulters and making repeated vaults as the bar kept getting raised.
“I’m just really here for fun,” Duffy said. “Pole vaulters are cool people. We root for each other. I don’t think of it as a competition. What I like is that it’s just you and the bar.”
Elizabeth Smithwick, a senior at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, agreed that there’s a mutually supportive attitude among vaulters and their fans.
“They’ll go, ‘Whoah,’ even if you’re terrible,” she said.
Street vaults, pole-vaulting competitions held on downtown streets, became popular in Europe a few years ago and are now catching on in the United States, said Eli Sunquist, director of the Jacksonville Athletic Club and organizer of the Jacksonville Street Vault.
Sunquist said he’s never been a pole vaulter himself, although he competed in the high jump and the triple jump in college. But he coaches a number of the girls who were competing in Saturday’s event. He said he wanted to put on an event for them and do “something else that is fun in Jacksonville.”
His initial idea was to do it in the courtyard of the Landing but there wasn’t enough space for the 150-foot runway. So they moved it to the street.
Janice Lowe, the general manager of the Landing, said she was delighted to have the Street Vault next to the Landing.
“This could turn into something really big,” Lowe said.
Sean O’Linn, who will be a freshman this fall at the University of North Florida, was covering the Street Vault for the website RunnerSpace.com. He said he’d love to see a Street Vault competition held in Jacksonville on an aircraft carrier.
“That would really bring awareness to the city and the sport,” he said.
Amanda Zakoske, who coaches hurdlers at The Bolles School and has taken up pole vaulting recently, called the event “really awesome.”
“It’s an easy event to watch,” she said.
But not for everybody.
“It’s totally nerve-racking,” said Dan Rice, who recorded each of his daughter Franny’s jumps using an iPad.
But Saturday was a good day for Rice as his daughter set a personal record when she cleared the bar set at 12 feet.
Her successful jump made her one of three remaining vaulters in the competition, along with Duffy and Carson Dingler, a high school sophomore from Juliette, Ga., who set a national record for her age group earlier this year with a vault of 12 feet, 8 inches.
Rice was unable to clear 12 feet, 6 inches in her three tries. Duffy and Dingler then each tried and failed in three attempts at 13 feet. Duffy was declared winner because she took one fewer try when she cleared 12 feet, 6 inches.
The event drew 18 female vaulters and got good reviews.
Brittney Bennett, a University of Central Florida graduate who now works as director of recruiting and selection for Northwest Mutual in Orlando, doesn’t get many chances to do pole vaulting these days, which is why she made the drive to Jacksonville. She said she was impressed by the event and by its setting, within a few steps of the St. Johns River.
“It’s really cool,” she said.
A men’s competition Saturday afternoon drew 22 vaulters.
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