Two-time Olympic pole vaulter Derek Miles’ attempt to make the U.S. team this year is being complicated by an injury that just won’t go away.
The 39-year-old University of South Dakota coach and alumnus will be helping guide Coyote athletes Bethany Buell and Emily Grove through their first Olympic Trials competition today in Eugene, Ore., and then will be competing in the men’s qualifying round himself on Monday.
He is hoping the extra days will buy him some time in quieting a persistent Achilles issue that has altered his training for months, but it’s pretty obvious he’s not overwhelmingly optimistic about that.
“In terms of the competition, you’d have to say this could be the easiest team to make of all the Trials I’ve been involved in,” Miles said. “U.S. pole vaulting is down a little bit right now, which makes my injury seem even a little more frustrating.”
Miles finished fourth at the Trials in 2000, then made the team in 2004, finishing seventh in Athens. He won the Trial competition in 2008 with a jump of 19-0.25 and then just missed out on a bronze medal, finishing fourth in Beijing. As recently as last year, as a 38-year-old, he was the USA Outdoor champion.
Tendinitis became a problem in his Achilles this past winter, however, and it has not reacted well to treatment. He has competed in regional meets the past few months, with victories at the Cyclone Invitational at Iowa State, the Jack Johnson Classic in Minneapolis and the Bill Hillenbrand Invitational in Vermillion. But staying sharp on a bad leg has been a struggle.
“I’ve tried to make it through the last three months, hoping it’s going to improve but it’s been getting worse and worse,” Miles said. “There was a time when I could get loosened up and it would settle down for a while but now when I push it, it shuts down. Every jump is going to take its toll, so limiting the jumps I need to make a height will be very important. I’ll try to make the best of the situation and go from there. I guess all injuries involve unfortunate timing, but this has been very unfortunate.”
Miles entered this year as the third-ranked U.S. vaulter, behind Brad Walker and Norfolk, Neb., native Jeremy Scott.
“I don’t think there’s really a favorite this year,” Miles said. “It stacks up as a wide-open competition. It’s really going to depend on who shows up to jump at the meet.”
Miles will be able to take his mind off his own competition today when Buell, a sophomore from St. Louis, Mo., who took third in the NCAA national meet earlier this month, makes her debut in Eugene. Grove, a freshman from Pontiac, Ill., who was seventh at the NCAA meet and hit the ‘B’ qualifying mark for the trials, also will compete at tonight’s trials.
Buell’s attempt to make the team will be difficult. She has the 11th-best qualifying mark entering the competition with a personal best of 14-5.5, but would likely have to clear somewhere around 15 feet to make the team. Watertown native Leslie Brost, a 14-foot vaulter at North Dakota State, will also be trying to get into the finals.
“The plan is to enjoy this,” Buell said. “I want to take it all in and have a great experience. I want to jump well and have fun doing it.”
Because Miles is her coach, Buell knows most of the top jumpers in the U.S., which may help with the nerves as she tries today to finish in the top 12 in the qualifying round and advance to the finals, which will be held on Sunday.
Jenn Suhr, Lacy Janson and Kylie Hutson are the top-ranked American women vaulters. Suhr was the silver medalist at Beijing in 2008 with a jump of 15-9.
“It’s every track person’s goal to get to the Olympics,” USD women’s coach Lucky Huber said. “The second is to be a part of a competition where you can get a spot on that team. Bethany has had such a great year I think she’s ready for this experience. If she can come out of the preliminaries and make the finals, that’s the ultimate goal.”
By Mick Garry