After watching pros like 2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie of France and National Scholastic Athletics Foundation alumsMary Saxer and Jack Whitt Friday night, the high school vaulters took stage at the UCS Spirit National Pole Vault Summit in Reno Saturday afternoon –eager to put on a show of their own.

Led by champions Devin KingAlexis Romero and Greta Wagner, the top preps indeed entertained – and prodigal middle-schooler Armand Duplantis gave fans a glimpse of the future.

The HS Boys I field was absolutely stellar, featuring six of the seven national returnees from 2013 at 16-6 or better, plus another outside that group who’d hit 16-9 already this winter.  The favorite, though he didn’t have the best current mark in the field, was definitely King (Sumner, Kentwood, LA senior).  He went 17-1 indoors last year and 17-3 outdoors, taking 2nd at New Balance Nationals Outdoor and making the final of the World Youth Champs.  King did not disappoint Saturday, clearing each of the five bars between 15-2 and 17-0 to win in dominant fashion.  It was only at 17-4, with the victory in hand, that he finally faltered.

Behind King, the depth of performance was strong, with four others over 16-8 – and not necessarily the four you would have expected:

  • Gavin Gautreau (Catholic New Iberia, LA senior) was the biggest surprise of all, beating his PR by a foot with his runner-up finish.
  • Harrison Williams (Memphis U., TN senior), the standout multis star, notched a PR by two inches in third.
  • Luke Winder (Plainfield Central, IL senior), one who was not a surprise, still impressed with his best clearance since last March and took fourth.
  • Tommy Dial (Jenks, OK junior) – who like a handful of others at the Summit has been part of a great vaulting “family” – smashed his PR by eight inches for fifth.

On the other hand, 2013 World Youth 4th-place finisher Paulo Benavides (Franklin, El Paso, TX senior), 16-10.5 performer (from 2013) Barrett Poth (Klein Oak, Spring TX senior) and that new 16-9 standout Todd Uckermark (Warwick Valley, NY senior) and were among those not so much on target – settling for 7th and a tie for 8th, all with 16-2 clearances.

The HS Girls I field was not quite as loaded, but there were five returnees from last year’s Summit top 10 and three 13-footers overall – led by Bonnie Draxler (Wrightstown, WI senior), who went 13-7.25 for 2nd at USATF Juniors last June and had a 13-footer indoors already.  When the bar went to 13-2 Saturday, however, only Greta Wagner (Los Gatos, CA senior) – one of those three 13-footers, matching her PR – and local favorite and darkhorse (only a 12-7 PR) Alexis Romero (Wooster, NV senior) could make it.  They were actually tied through13-2 and, rather than have a jump-off, they shared the title.

Draxler had to settle for 5th with 12-10, while tying for 3rd at the same height (fewer misses) were Lonestar PV Club teammatesMeagan Gray (Hays, Buda, TX junior) and Nicole Summersett (Westlake, Austin, TX junior)

King, Wagner and Romero all earned berths to the Millrose Games, an incentive to the champions built into the competition.

Boys Competition

Devin King came in fairly early, at 15-2, a height most of the favorites negotiated easily.  One of the first casualties was Timothy Duckworth (Arcadia, AZ senior), who recently had gone 15-7 but couldn’t get 15-8 on this day.  That height wound up being a narrow escape for Williams.  “I had a little scare at 15-8; I took three attempts for that,” he said.  “But it felt good; I brushed it a little on the way up.”

Ten vaulters would negotiate 15-8 and, interestingly, every one of those 10 would get 16-2, as well.  The most gratified of those was Gautreau, whose third-attempt clearance was six inches better than his 2012 PR (and eight inches better than he did in 2013).

Gautreau was then first up at 16-8 and went justifiably crazy when he scaled that bar on his first attempt.  Half of the field went out at that point, however, including Poth, Uckermark, Benavides, France’s Mathieu Collet, and August Kiles (Tamalpais, CA senior).  King joined Gautreau with a first-attempt clearance, while Williams made it on his second attempt.  Winder and Dial had thrilling third-attempt success to complete the group of five.

At 17-0, however, it was a different story.  The first four each missed, then King boomed over with an effort that showed there was still more on the tank.  It was the fourth career meet at 17 or better for the senior, a barrier the rest of the field has yet to achieve.

The bar was raised to 17-4 and what happened next … well, let King tell it:  “The run was great and the plant was great, but whenever I came off the pole on top, I just kept coming down on (the bar).  And it popped up right on top of the standard, and that doesn’t count, so …”

He trailed off, with a rueful grin – the kind of grin from an opportunity missed, but the knowledge there will be more opportunities.  Victory was the main thing.  “Last year I got 2nd place … (this year) I really wanted to win.”  His training and competing right now “are going well, I feel like I can jump high.”

His biggest goal for 2013?  “Try and jump 18,” he grinned again.  He’ll be at New Balance Nationals Indoor next month, along with many others here.

Each of the four who cleared 16-8 had reasons to be happy.  Gavin Gautreau had overcome injuries and with his monster day fulfilled some of the potential he’d shown a few years ago, when he went 15-8 as a soph.  Harrison Williams had plenty of misses and “brushes” on the bar, but in the end he raised his PR from 16-6.  Not bad for the defending Arcadia decathlon champ and 2013 New Balance Nationals Outdoor octathlon champ – who admits he’s had little vaulting practice so far this winter.  “I’m really happy to be able to PR,” he said.  “At 16-2, I took two attempts at that one and I brushed it again.  And at 16-8 I brushed it again, and got my 2nd attempt on that one.”

Luke Winder didn’t beat his PR of 16-10 from last March, but was happy for his best performance since.  Outdoors last spring, his best was 16-6 and he recently had a 16-4.75 as he got going this winter.  The Illinois indoor campaign doesn’t start for a few more weeks, however.  “I’m definitely happy that the heights are coming early,” he said.  “I’m trying out some new poles, 16-foot long poles and I’m still kind of getting the hang of them … It’s been a long time coming, but I know that the work that I’ve put in over this fall and over the summer is going to pay off … I mean, it already has, but I know it’s going to pay off even more.

“Eventually, I’m hopefully going to be able to get my grip up a little bit higher and just be able to time them up a little better,” he added.  “God gave me the opportunity to come out here, so I took advantage of that as much as I could.”

Like Gautreau, Tommy Dial PR’d twice during the meet and, once again, Reno represented a landmark performance for himself.  “I’ve kind of been in a slump and I needed to do something big this weekend and this was the place to do it … It’s the first time to jump on my 5-meter poles, coming from my longer approach, and I was just hitting it hard.  I had great coaching, my dad (Joe Dial, who vaulted 19-6 feet in 1987 and is the Oral Roberts coach) and the Olympic champion and his coach were helping me.  I had all the things right to do it, so I went out there and gave it all I had and did it.

“My dad’s just been telling me, you know, you got it, it’s all there,” he added.  “I just came here and got two new poles, and got on those first.  And then I went to the big one that I couldn’t get on, and that’s the one I PR’d on.  I mean, I just rocked back and went with it good, and it just felt so smooth.  As for my technique, I was going off the pole good, getting my shoulders back and I just felt great all around.”

Also, in the HS Boys II competition, Connor McLean (Clackamas OR, senior) and Derek Dibona (Warwick Valley, NY junior) each had personal best heights of 15-10, but McLean won on misses.

Girls Competition

The above-mentioned Bonnie DraxlerMeagan Gray and Nicole Summersett had been competing and all had already jumped at last 12-8 this winter.  But it was the surprising Reno prep standout Alexis Romero and Greta Wagner, a 13-footer last spring, who prevailed.

One of the early casualties was another local star: Makayla Linebarger, a freshman phenom from Sparks who won the USATF JOs last summer with 12-3.75, cleared 11-2 and went out at 11-10 – finishing 10th.  Then Taylore Jacques (Presentation CA, senior), who was 4th here in 2013 and with a career best of 12-7, made 12-4 on her first try then missed three at 12-10 – finishing 6th.

So at 12-10, Romero, Wagner, Summersett, Gray and Draxler were the ones who cleared, with only Draxler needing a second try.  Romero, especially, looked pleased as it represented nearly a 3-inch PR.  She was even more delighted at 13-2, where she and Wagner maintained their clean records with first-try clearances.  When the other three failed at that height, they remained tied.

The bar went to 13-6.  There were a few solid attempts, but neither was quite ready for that type of altitude yet.

Romero had no idea she was ready for such a big PR.  “I just came to have fun … and I did!” she laughed.  “I’m really glad I jumped 13-2.”

She added that she had recently cleared 12-8 in practice, was “so happy” to get 12-10, and by the time she got up to 13-2 Saturday was full of confidence.  “I treated it like any other jump: Have a good, consistent run, and keep up with the pole and get upside down.”

Romero, who noted she had about 20 “fans” on hand, said strength and getting faster have been keys.  “We did lot of speed work during the off-season … and I’m stronger all-around, that’s really made a difference.”

Tied for third, the Texans Gray and Summersett were a little heartbroken at first, but could appreciate their 12-10 jumps later.  For Gray, it was a indoor/outdoor PR, but she had been hoping for more.  “I’ve been clearing 13 feet in practice constantly, so I’ve just been waiting for the day to come that I clear 13-plus,” she said.  “I’ve been waiting for that day since last season.”

Some of her early attempts were great, she added.  “My up-top stuff has been perfect … but I blew through my last pole and there’s not much I can do about that.”

Summersett said she was getting tired by the time the bar got up to 13-2.  “I was running out of energy… but I had some good attempts … I was very happy with 12-10 (indoor PR).”

The Future

And, in the HS Boys III competition, the 5th-place finisher was 8th-grade vaulter Armand ‘Mondo” Duplantis of Lafayette, LA – a 14-year-old with seven single-age global records in the event, starting at age-7.  Mondo had set his most recent mark in October, hitting 14-7 in an outdoor meet in Santa Rosa, FL before he turned 14 – more than 18 inches better than he soared as a 12-year-old.  In Reno, he cleared a 14-10 PR, but was disappointed he didn’t make 15-4.

“I would have liked to get higher, but I mean, I’m happy with 14-10,” he said.  “That was a good jump.”

Said Armand’s father, Greg, a 19-footer in the 1980s and 90s, “I was real happy with it, his goal was 15 feet and the progression was 14-10, then 15-4, so he was just about right at what he wanted to jump.”

“He grew up around the event,” the father added.  “He’s taken to it and really enjoys it.  He started jumping as soon as he could hold a pole … I know Mondo thinks he’s going to be a lot better than me (laughs), and I hope he is.”

Notably, the single-age marks for age-14 and age-15 are rather eye-popping: 16-1.25 by Hiroki Sasase of Japan for the former (2004) and 17-6 by Jacob Davis of the USA (1994) for the latter.  Davis was the soph class record-setter in and out while at Orangefield, TX.

“We call it ‘Pole Vault Heaven’ here!”

Finally, some tributes to the incomparable scene that is the Reno PV Summit:

  • Nicole Summersett:  “It’s always the best … I just love being with a bunch of pole vaulters for a whole weekend!”
  • Meagan Gray (on whether she got to meet many of the elites):  “I did, I got most of their autographs, so I’m pretty excited about that!”
  • Armand Duplantis (on whether getting asked for autographs and treated like a rock star was unusual):   “I’ve gotten that past years too, it’s kind of normal for the Summit.  There’s so many vaulters here.”
  • Armand again, on favorite aspects of the Summit:  “I love watching the elites … it’s awesome to watch them, trying to visual yourself being up there one day, hopefully.”
  • Tommy Dial:  “It’s a great atmosphere, there’s nowhere else like this place … (and on the impact of his first trip to the Summit in 2013)  Last year was the first time I came, and it made my mind up that this (vaulting) is what I wanted to do.  I want to follow in my dads’s footsteps and be one of the greatest pole vaulters there is … It was big, seeing all these people … it was great, I love it!”
  • Luke Winder:  “My favorite part is that my (older) brother (Jake) is competing today as well … My older brother is going to be competing on this same runway and that hasn’t happened, ever, for me and him.  So I know this has been an awesome trip and I’m really happy with the outcome of it.”
  • Greg Duplantis (been to this event more than 20 times):  “Oh, I love the Summit … I get to watch … well, we call it ‘Pole Vault Heaven’ up here.  I get to watch pole vault for two days, talk pole vault, and I get to see a bunch of old friends.”
  • Mary Saxer:  This is my fifth time … there’s nothing like it, it’s truly unique and I think it’s awesome that the elites of the sport interact with the babies of the sport … and the high-schoolers, the college athletes and the past Olympians.  It’s just awesome, it’s like a big family.  I wish I came in high school and college, but my first time I came was as an elite.  I hope I come back every year, it’s unbelievable.  I love it!”




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