An engineering major at Tennessee, Jake Blankenship knows well the importance of plotting out a plan and executing it precisely.
When he competes in the preliminary round of the pole vault at the world track and field championships on Saturday in Beijing, Blankenship — a 2012 Gahanna graduate — will realize a lifelong dream.
“This is the Olympics, just not in an Olympic year,” he said. “It’s absolutely going to be the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. It’s going to be the first time I’ve competed against some athletes I’ve only read about.
“In terms of the process and where we’re heading, this experience is going to be incredible no matter how I do.”
For Blankenship, the worlds will cap a whirlwind season in which he won a third straight Penn Relays title and a Southeastern Conference title, and took second in the U.S. outdoor championships and third in the Pan Am Games. His season best of 191/4 feet ranks second in the U.S. and 12th in the world.
The process of which Blankenship often speaks is geared toward capping his Tennessee career with a flourish and making the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.
“It’s a very realistic goal, but because of the technical, physical and mental aspect of this event, everything is a meticulous, day-by-day, gradual process aimed at jumping consistently high over the long haul — well past 2016,” he said. “You just have to trust that process and believe in it.”
Blankenship, who has competed consistently since January, said a top-five finish and a personal best at the worlds would serve as a launching pad toward international success.
“After I jumped 5.80 meters (191/4 feet) twice during a two-week span indoors and outdoors early in the spring, I hoped to do a little better the past couple of months,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who’s never satisfied, but you have to take into account that this is by far the longest season I’ve ever endured. I admit I’ve been feeling the fatigue a little.”
Blankenship said there also are technical matters — adapting to a new pole, changing his grip and the angle of the pole bend, his approach — that factor into his performance.
“You can’t expect to peak every meet,” he said.
Tennessee pole vault coach Russ Johnson said Blankenship enters the worlds on an upswing.
“If he brings his ‘A’ game and takes care of business in getting to the finals, I think he’s entirely capable of jumping
6 meters (19-7) and being right there with the elite guys,” Johnson said.
A two-time state champion and two-time national champion in high school, Blankenship, 21, arrived at Tennessee with lofty expectations, which he has fulfilled.
His top rivals are NCAA champion Shawn Barber, an Akron senior from Canada; U.S. champion Sam Kendricks; and U.S. record-holder Brad Walker, all of whom will be in Beijing. The favorite in the event is world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie of France, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and current world leader at 19-10.
“I get to train with a lot of great athletes, and (2004 Olympic champion) Tim Mack has helped complement all the hard work Russ (Johnson) has put in,” Blankenship said. “The pole vaulting community is unique in how tight-knit we all are. We’re fiercely competitive, but we’re also great friends who would do anything to help another athlete.”