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Stevenson pole vaults six metres!
Sunday 9 May 2004
Modesto, California (USA) - American vaulter Toby Stevenson became the ninth man in athletics’ history to reach the six-metre level outdoors with a magnificent 6.00m jump which easily stood alone as the highlight of Saturday’s 63rd Coca-Cola Modesto Relays (8 May).
“I’ve been expecting a big one all year”
For the 27-year-old Texas native, the benchmark jump came during a most amazing competitive display which saw him raise his pre-meet outdoor personal best of 5.75 twice - to 5.85 and 5.91 - before entering pole vaulting’s six-metre pantheon.
As the best jump since Dmitriy Markov’s 6.05 in winning the Edmonton championships three years ago, it also gave the event a much-needed injection of life after several lacklustre seasons.
Perhaps somewhat drained of adrenaline after achieving one of the event’s most sought-after goals, Stevenson still found the strength to take several respectable attempts at a would-be American record 6.04 to close out the competition.
Helping to push Stevenson up into uncharted territory today was the current record holder at 6.03, Jeff Hartwig, with a second-place 5.75 in his outdoor opener.
“I’ve been expecting a big one all year,” Stevenson commented afterwards. “Everything has been coming together recently - my diet, my training, everything. I didn’t wake up this morning expecting it would happen today, but you never do for something like this.”
Even before leaving behind his west-Texas roots to begin university study at Stanford seven years ago, Stevenson never would think of jumping without his trademark hockey helmet. But he regrets that this distinguishing feature has, at times, unfairly deflected attention away from his sports talent.
“Yes, I guess I’ll always be known as ‘the vaulter in the helmet’,” he admitted, “but hopefully now I’ll be known primarily as just a good vaulter.”
Pan Am gold
That measure of respect is something Stevenson seemingly has been seeking the past few years. As a somewhat unknown jumper in international circles, except through the appearance of his name in the yearly vaulting lists, Stevenson’s first time on a US outdoor national team led to a win at the Pan-American Games last summer. This came one year after his initial European competition, at the 2002 Bislett Games, found him in an Oslo hospital with a punctured lung after a competition mishap.
Stevenson’s first taste of a global meeting came this past winter at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest, but poor pole choices led to an ignominous early exit in the qualifying rounds. So, he is obviously on a mission this season which he hopes will lead to a ticket for Athens.
“I just need to stay healthy, avoid injuries, and not get distracted by a lot of talk,” he reasoned.
Stevenson’s career afternoon on Saturday was made possible by a new pole received from his pole supplier, “the biggest one I’ve ever used.” His first jump after taking it out of the wrapper was a first-attempt clearance at 5.91. That had all of the vaulting cognoscenti clustered around the jumping area buzzing with anticipation.
After two misses at 6.00, Stevenson wore a forlorn look as he sat discussing his one remaining try with training partner Kurt Hannah. “That’s the biggest pole I have. And I just started using it today,” he moaned, almost wishing that an even bigger stick would magically appear. It wasn’t needed, though, as the scrappy jumper lofted himself skyward and piked perfectly over the bar and into history.
Stevenson’s strength and fitness consultant at the US Olympic Training Centre near San Diego, Todd Henson, complimented his protégé, saying that “Toby has one of the most consistent runs of just about any athlete I work with. It’s almost textbook perfect.” But other than helping with the vaulter’s strength and running mechanics, Henson admits that he is not a pole vault coach.
“Toby and Kurt work together, but basically they have no one assisting them with vaulting technique,” Henson added. How many other six-metre jumpers have been similarly coachless at the time of their big success?
Next stop, Phoenix
Next on Stevenson’s schedule will be a competition next weekend in Phoenix organised by Sydney gold medallist Nick Hysong. He will end the month with California appearances in Los Angeles at the Home Depot Invitational (22 May) and at his old home pit at Stanford at the Payton Jordan meeting on 31 May.
And when questioned about competitions in Europe? “Not until after the Olympic Trials,” was his quick answer.
Dragila wins women’s competition
Several hours earlier, Stacy Dragila won a rather tepid women’s Pole Vault competition with 4.55, ahead of Tracy O’Hara (4.45).
Although the Pole Vault - both men’s and women’s - has snared much of the Modesto publicity in recent years, thanks to the generous tailwinds which generally descend onto this agricultural community in early May, the Relays can point to an even longer tradition of good horizontal jumping.
Phillips jumps to world leading 8.43
Today, Paris World Long Jump champion Dwight Phillips recovered from a lead-off 4.00 jump (wind-aided, no less!) to scorch the pit on his next attempt for a world-leading 8.43, which ultimately held up as the winning leap. This came as a response to Hussein Al-Sabee’s second-round 8.35 jump, a world leader at the time, and also a Saudi Arabian national record.
Bell triples to windy 17.46
The world leader in the men’s triple jump, Kenta Bell, continued to post strong results during the spring season as his wind-aided 17.46, backed up by a legal 17.39, easily withstood the challenge of LaMark Carter’s windy 16.96.
Situated at the extreme end of an American football field, the Modesto high jump area might best be described as postage-stamp-sized in comparison with most. This did not seem to hamper the women, as Tisha Waller bested Amy Acuff, both at 1.95.
But the powerful men never found the rhythm needed when going from a grass approach to three steps on the rubberized surface. As a result, 20-year-old university student Teak Wilburn was able to prevail over current US champion Jamie Nieto, although their 2.20 bests were far from satisfying.
Godina takes the Shot
Three-time outdoor world champion John Godina won the Shot Put with a uncharacteristically meek 20.36, as no other thrower could surpass the twenty-metre mark.
Discus throwers were able to take advantage of the breezy conditions as victories were posted by Casey Malone (64.66) and Suzy Powell (62.76).
Felicien breezes to 12.60 run
The highlights on the track were limited to the short hurdle races. World indoor and outdoor champion Perdita Felicien breezed to an easy win in a season-best 12.60, while Larry Wade equalled his own year best of 13.13 in claiming the men’s crown ahead of Dawane Wallace (13.22).
Ed Gordon for the IAAF