MOBILE, Alabama — Dauphin Street in downtown became a runway today.
Or, perhaps launching pad is more accurate.
Dozens of competitors of varying skill and experience — including some Olympic-caliber athletes — participated in the second Dauphin Street Vault in the heart of the city’s entertainment district. Many are used to competing in track and field events, but this was like no scholastic track meet.
“It’s a lot more adrenaline,” said Chanel Krause, a rising senior at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile. “I’m not used to all these people and the music. The runway is a lot faster.”
Krause, 17, said that in school competitions, her coaches instruct her to vault high enough to win but to conserve energy for her other three events.
This evening, with the luxury of a single event to concentrate on, she said she was hoping to clear 13 feet and shatter her personal best.
The athletes took off down the narrow runway, moving from west to east, and propelled themselves above the fiberglass bar in front of the other kinds of bars — the ones that serve alcohol. Music blasted from speakers on the balcony of Grand Central.
This was an event were the crowd was encouraged to make noise.
“Come on,” the announcer intoned at one point, “we’re not at a golf tournament. Let’s clap.”
Organizers hope to build the event from the novelty it was last year into an annual draw that supports downtown businesses.
James Prince, who competed last year and today, said the crowd seemed bigger this year.
“There were a lot more people. It’s good people came out to support it,” he said. “It went a little bit smoother than last year.”
Prince, of Pensacola, graduated from high school last year and now serves as an assistant track coach there. He said the crowd is bigger and closer to the competitors than in a high school meet.
“I really like the runway because it’s an elevated runway,” he said. “You get a lot more speed.”
The crowd was a mix of friends and relatives of the athletes, folks enjoying a few drinks and the merely curious. Melissa Harkins said today was the 8th birthday of her son, Patrick.
“He’s just been all excited about the Olympics, and this was his idea,” she said. “He wanted to this for his birthday.”
Harkins said the boy’s aunt, Patricia Harkins-Pierre, is attending the Summer Games in London because her poetry has been selected to represent the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she teaches. Harkins said the family had a birthday party for Patrick in the morning and then headed downtown in the evening.
“He really wanted to skip his party to come out here to pole vault,” she said.
Beer in hand, Mobile resident Steve Baldo was taking in the whole scene.
“This is great,” he said. “It’s neat. It’s something different. It’s my first time seeing pole vaulting.”
by: Brendan Kirby