Kansas pole vault star Alex Bishop possesses the kind of grace and skill that would lead one to believe he is the product of life-long training. But for the gymnast-turned vaulting star, his first encounter with pole vault was far from love at first sight.
“I started pole vaulting in eighth grade,” said Bishop. “I tried for about a month and absolutely hated it.”
After his first ill-fated brush with the sport, Bishop went a full year before picking up another pole. His initial attempt with the event may have floundered, but his second proved to be the ticket.
“I tried it again my freshman year of high school and found out I really enjoyed it,” said Bishop. “I think when I started to jump higher is when it became fun for me. After you get into it and start getting into the higher heights, it becomes more enjoyable.”
And higher he did jump. Bishop, now a senior on the Kansas track and field team, a Second Team All-American and the 2013 Big 12 indoor pole vault champion, transformed his distaste for the event into a passion that has lead him over 1,000 miles from home in Phoenix, Ariz.
With help from his coach in high school, Nick Hysong, an Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Bishop began to master and mold his skills – old and new. Bishop quickly realized that his history with gymnastics laid a foundation for his success on the runway. The skills he learned on the mat from a young age attributed to Bishop’s biggest talent – his sheer power and supreme knack of body awareness.
“Coach (Tom Hays) always jokes with me and says you’re too small to be powerful,” said the 5-foot-9 senior. “I definitely do think that the speed and the quickness kind of helped with everything and of course the body awareness. Being aware of yourself when you’re going over the bar, being aware through every motion of the vault and every step, really has helped me really know where I’m at and what I can do.”
His hard work and dedication in high school paid off and in his four seasons of vaulting during his high school campaign at Brophy College Prep, Bishop achieved numerous titles including three 5A regional championships, a 5A state championship and Nike national championship his senior year.
Bishop’s burgeoning success called attention from universities across the country including the Florida, Oregon and Arizona State. While Bishop already had laid the foundation for a talented vaulter, when it came to looking for a school, he not only looked for a place to harbor his talents in his event, but also in the classroom. Kansas proved to embody both his needs.
“I checked out the school; I wanted to go into the medical profession and I figured out that KU had a really good medical program,” said Bishop. “I think they have the best coach in the nation. That’s why I made my decision to come here.”
Besides the academics and coaching from KU vertical jumps coach, Tom Hays, Bishop also appreciates the slower pace of college-town life that Lawrence, Kan., has to offer. Bishop’s native Phoenix is home to just over 2.3 million people, while Lawrence has a little over 89,000, a difference that Bishop says is refreshing.
“It’s amazing,” said Bishop. “Coming here from Phoenix, I really had no idea what KU or Lawrence was really about. Phoenix is such a big city, there’s really not a small town feel at all. When I got here – the spirit, and everything that kind of goes into KU – was just amazing. It was a completely new experience for me and exactly what I needed.”
Bishop now enters his fourth and final season as a Jayhawk, marking the last opportunity to etch his name in Kansas track and field history. His 2013 Big 12 Indoor pole vault title added his name to a list of 31 Jayhawks to win that title in the program’s history.
But ask Bishop what he wants to accomplish in the new year and his answer is anything but the expected – he wants to help Hays claim a new record in the Big 12.
“As of right now, Coach Hays is actually tied with – I think – the Baylor coach now for having coached seven 18-footers,” said Bishop. “They’ve each coached seven 18-foot vaulters and I would definitely like to put Hays over that mark and hit a higher height to put him over the edge. Not only for myself to jump high and reach that 18-foot-plus mark, but for Coach Hays to have that first title, would be pretty awesome.”
Hitting the 18-foot mark is within reach for Bishop, whose career best height is currently 17-feet 4-inches. Bishop has continued to vault higher with each season he’s been at Kansas, putting him even closer to that 18-foot goal.
As graduation looms in the future, Bishop’s post-graduation plans include interning and working towards becoming a Physician’s Assistant. But pole vault will always be on his mind as Bishop plans to continue training in anticipation for the Olympic Trials in 2016.
“I would like to keep training,” said Bishop. “The next Olympic year is 2016 and I do believe that I can possibly have a shot with going to trials. If I can set myself up for that and keep training, I will definitely do so.”
Before Bishop moves on to that next phase in his life, he and the Jayhawks must tackle a grueling indoor season, followed by an outdoor season against tough opponents in the Big 12.
Bishop plans on taking his final season and his future in stride and keep things moving along. Because while his relationship with pole vault may have started out rocky, it is now stronger than ever.
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