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Pole vaulters learn from visiting Japanese coach
By JEFF WINDMUELLER Independent Record | Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 12:13 am
Doug LeBrun’s annual summer of pole vault lessons had a certain foreign flair this year.
LeBrun, the longtime pole vault coach at Helena High, introduced a select group of kids to one of the world’s top coaches in the sport, Japan’s Tetsuo Hirota, during a small camp on Tuesday.
Hirota is the former Japanese national record holder and now coaches for the country’s squad — guiding athletes like female vaulter Ikuko Nishikori to new national records.
But, in the backyard of LeBrun’s farm-style stead in the Helena Valley, Hirota received a tour of the somewhat makeshift facilities — other than your standard pole vault pit, LeBrun’s land is littered with stations like pull-up bars for practicing lifts, a pulley system to flip the athlete upside down and even bars for when they’re ready to fall onto the mat — before working with each of the kids during warmups.
“I’m usually working with elite athletes; This is kind of refreshing,” Hirota said through an interpreter, Estelle Naito.
Just how did the man wind up in Montana?
“(LeBrun) is inviting me all the time,” said Hirota, mentioning that he had met LeBrun at an international camp in the mid-1990s.
With meets and Olympic events often occurring during the summer, however, he hadn’t been able to make it out until this year. After the camp, Hirota will take a tour of Glacier National Park and some of the sights and sounds of Montana before heading out Saturday.
“I think it’s just something unique,” LeBrun said. “Who gets a national, known coach from another country to come out?”
Apparently LeBrun, since none of the participants were particularly surprised.
“These guys come from all around; Old Man just knows them,” said soon-to-be Helena senior Jake Reidelbach, referring to LeBrun by his well-known moniker in the pole vault world.
And it is certainly to the kids’ benefit.
Though the fundamentals and techniques they teach are very similar, Hirota brought new eyes to LeBrun’s camp, and a little different style — speaking softly as Naito helped translate the instructions.
While LeBrun’s voice rose when he instructed athletes like Reidelbach and fellow Bengal T.J. Bomar, Hirota had the opportunity to take some of the young vaulters aside for step-by-step instruction. He worked the fundamentals, some as simple as holding the pole straight before sprinting down the runway, to pushing into the pole instead of leaning back after making the plant.
Having participated in the sport since the bamboo era, Hirota learned many of his skills by studying in France and Russia and looked comfortable instructing kids in mostly Japanese, using hand gestures and, at times, a few words of English to get his point across.
“It’s kind of interesting,” said Mariah Arneson, who, along with twin sister Marisa, travelled from Missoula to attend the camp. The two will be competing for Carroll College next spring.
“It’s cool to get a different perspective,” she said.
While there are few differences in technique, the biggest difference is between Japanese and American athletes themselves.
For starters, there is size.
“The body types of the Japanese are different,” said Naito, a California native and pole vaulter herself. “Americans are bigger, strong and faster. They can get away with errors.”
Many of the Japanese competitors, meanwhile, transition to the sport from gymnastics, prompting coaches to use more mat work while LeBrun relies on his machines.
One thing is certain. Like LeBrun, Hirota is willing to share his knowledge with the future participants in the sport.
“Even though he’s worked with national competitors,” Naito said, “He’s always willing to help out the young kids.”
Jeff Windmueller: 447-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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