PV Summit article by Bill Livingston

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PV Summit article by Bill Livingston

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Fri Jan 02, 2009 9:10 pm

http://www.cleveland.com/livingston/ind ... y_tra.html

In the Biggest Little City, track and field's biggest thrill-seekers get their due attention
by Bill Livingston/Plain Dealer Columnist
Friday January 02, 2009, 7:06 PM



RENO, Nev. -- The biggest mistake is to say this stuff is just for us trackies. Or, in this case, fieldies. Because all sports are stirring human drama and adversity is a section of anyone's neghborhood.

The drama taking place here at the National Pole Vault Summit, the kick off of the indoor season in track and field, is simply told with the tools of pole vaulting.

It's a terrific sport, with a playing field that belongs to the far reaches of the imagination. I wrote about the sky chiefs in my book, "Above and Beyond" about Tim Mack, the Westlake-born, St. Ignatius-educated 2004 Olympic gold medalist, and other great legends of the sport. I was at the Pole Vault Summit to pick up an award for it from USA Track and Field and its Pole Vault Development division.

But that wasn't the real thrill. Nor was it the elite vaulters' meet at the Livestock Arena where the Reno rodeos are held. The meet began at 10 p.m., Eastern Time, Friday.

The real thrill was seeing all the high school boy and girl vaulters among the roughly 2,500 who came from across the country and from several foreign lands for expert instruction, concluding with their own meet today. Among the coaches here is Mack's coach from the University of Tennessee, Jim Bemiller of Mansfield, Ohio, a former Mid-American Conference champion at Miami.
The turnout is pretty amazing, in an economic slump, for a field event, in a sport that most Americans follow only once every four years.

"The road to London [and the 2012 Olympics] begins here," said Bob Fraley, the track and field coach at Fresno State and seminal figure in the development of the Pole Vault Summit.

It is always an honor to meet people who excel at anything in sports.

I have always held Olympic athletes in particular awe because they ply their trade while largely ignored by the media, with small monetary rewards compared to the mainstream sports, with only a small window of opportunity in which to realize their dreams. No one makes a bigger commitment to sports than Olympic athletes, particularly in something like track and field.


Dan Nierling/Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier via AP
An Olympic pole vaulter at age 40, Jeff Hartwig is just one of his sport's great stories being celebrated this weekend in Reno, Nevada.
So it was my fortune to meet Pat Manson, whose streak of 21 straight years of clearing 18 feet ended on New Year's Eve. "Pretty soon it will be 25 straight years of clearing 17 feet, 30 straight years of clearing 16-6..." Manson said, smiling and lowering his hand as he went up progressively in age.
And I met Toby Stevenson, the silver medalist in Athens, who joked with Mack, "Why do I have to buy the book? I lived it."

Jan Johnson, the bronze medalist from 1972.

Jeff Hartwig, who went defiantly into athletic old age, making the Beijing Olympic team at the age of 40, proving that wisdom and experience can counterbalance strength and youth.

Derek Miles, who was one heartbreaking, tie-breaking miss short of the bronze medal in China.

Tye Harvey, who jumped 19 feet, 1/4 inch at the U.S. Trials and stayed home in 2004, during Mack's summer in the sky, becoming the first 19-foot jumper ever to miss the Olympic team.

Stacy Dragila, the queen of American women's pole vaulting, whose record-setting binges lured a whole new circle of fans to pole vaulting, and who, in large measure, saved the sport -- because of her popularity among high school girls -- from being cut from athletic budgets around the country.

I did not get to meet Don "Tarzan" Bragg, age 73. The 1960 Olympic gold medalist did not attend this year. I had wanted to hit the casino tables with him, but I doubt I could have hung with Bragg. Nobody ever went above and beyond the boundaries of conventional behavior quite like Tarzan. Aye-eee-yah!

David Maraniss' book "Rome 1960" is a fascinating portrait of the biggest names of that long-ago Olympiad. In it, Cleveland's great female discus thrower Frances Kaszubski, a top aide on the women's track and field team that included the great Tennesee State Tigerelle, Wilma Rudolph, is a compelling supporting character.

Maraniss, however, errs in his discussion of Bragg. Maraniss reports that, after clearing 15 feet, 5 inches to win gold, Bragg screamed an exultant Tarzan cry.

In "Above and Beyond," I reported that Bragg bellowed the quavering cry on the victory podium.

In Bragg's autobiography, "A Chance to Dare", he said he did the Tarzan yell after receiving the gold medal. "I saw [IOC president Avery] Brundage's self-satisfied face, as if he'd been the one who'd accomplished something," wrote Bragg. "As soon as the music [for the national anthem] stopped, I caught his eye and let out a magnificent Tarzan call."

Also, Maraniss' book, in regard to the shocking bronze medal finish in 1960 of heavily favored American high jumper John Thomas, questions the accuracy of a comment by an unnamed U.S. official, who said, "The boys [on the track team] have been living it up too high."

The author notes that many athletes from many countries enjoyed the Roman night life. But Bragg, a party animal of formidable reputation, told me that he often saw Thomas dancing the night away and wondered if Thomas knew what was at stake. Bragg thought Thomas left his legs in the village.

I also must blow the whistle on myself, for the statement in "Above and Beyond" that 1952 and 1956 Olympic pole vault gold medalist Bob Richards was the first athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties. Several athletes actually preceded Richards, including Cleveland's formative-era NFL star Benny Friedman. The first was the New York Yankees' Lou Gehrig in 1934.

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Re: PV Summit article by Bill Livingston

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Fri Jan 02, 2009 9:11 pm

Sorry Bill, but whoever told you there were 2,500 people here this year was blowing smoke. Maybe they drew that many last year, but attendance is down this year.

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Re: PV Summit article by Bill Livingston

Unread postby vaultmd » Mon Jan 05, 2009 1:46 pm

rainbowgirl28 wrote:Sorry Bill, but whoever told you there were 2,500 people here this year was blowing smoke. Maybe they drew that many last year, but attendance is down this year.


Didn't we have 1,200 athletes (I did not hear that from a definitive source) ? If so, 2,500 people doesn't sound too far off.

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Re: PV Summit article by Bill Livingston

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Mon Jan 05, 2009 1:57 pm

vaultmd wrote:
rainbowgirl28 wrote:Sorry Bill, but whoever told you there were 2,500 people here this year was blowing smoke. Maybe they drew that many last year, but attendance is down this year.


Didn't we have 1,200 athletes (I did not hear that from a definitive source) ? If so, 2,500 people doesn't sound too far off.


I doubt it was quite that high this year. There were only 56 competitions this year, plus the elites. Maayybe 1,200 signed up to jump, but I think almost every group had a number of scratches. I think the pit I officiated had about 13 people jump, I would guess the average per pit was closer to 15 than 20.

Results are up here: http://www.dyestatcal.com//?pg=dyestatc ... ay-Results I will try to crunch the numbers later

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Re: PV Summit article by Bill Livingston

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Mon Jan 05, 2009 2:26 pm

A quick crunch of the numbers based on the results posted so far (excluding the elites)... 45 competitions with an average of 14.7 competitors. If I multiply the remaining 11 competitions by 15 each, and add in the 17 elite vaulters I get an estimated 845 vaulters this year. Looking at the scratches for each group, they probably had around 1000 sign up.

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Re: PV Summit article by Bill Livingston

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Wed Jan 07, 2009 2:43 pm

http://www.cleveland.com/livingston/ind ... _holi.html

Now the leftover Reno stuff:

• We all know that most airports are basically Machiavellian instruments, diabolical and twisted. The connecting flight on New Year's Night in the sprawl that is Dallas-Forth Worth's airport required riding an automated train across two terminals and then a broken-field journey down a long corridor to the proper gate. I made it, Bumstead-like, with a lunge on which I practically grabbed the handle of the plane door as it was closing.

• Altius note: As I blogged recently, I was in Reno to pick up at the National Pole Vault Summit an award from USA Track and Field's Pole Vault Development program for my book, "Above and Beyond -- Tim Mack, the Pole Vault and the Quest for Olympic Gold"

The top fashion statement at the elite vaulters meet Friday night was by American Paul Litchfield, who cleared only 17 feet, 1/2 inch, but wore an unforgettable pale blue body suit with a tuxedo front and a bow-tie.

• Don't miss watching the terrific pole vaulting video that accompanies the first blog I did on Reno, supplied by The Plain Dealer's Jamie Turner. It's about 2 1/2 minutes long and it will show you the danger and the beauty that make some of us love the event as much as we do.


Jae S. Lee/The Tennessean via AP
For a Vanderbilt alum, this was an uncommon and satisfying sight --- Commodores celebrating the final moments of a bowl game victory.
• Jackass the sportswriter note: Both Mack and his coach, Mansfield native Jim Bemiller, have ties to the University of Tennessee, which had a losing season and did not go to a bowl after 16 straight appearances. Meanwhile, my alma mater, Vanderbilt, not only went to its first bowl since 1982 (on a trip of exactly 3 1/2 miles to Nashville's Music City Bowl) but also won its first postseason game since 1955 and only its second in history by upsetting Boston College.
Using a newspaper headline term for the Vandy mascot, the Commodores, I e-mailed both Mack and Bemiller: "How about those Dores? Say, how did the Vols do in their bowl game?'"

I know. God will get me for that one.

• Reno dining note: It's a cowboy town, but it's also less than three hours from San Francisco if you can get through the sometimes snow-clogged passes of the Sierra Nevada. Which means you should try the Nugget hotel's Rosie's Cafe and its seafood omelet for breakfast -- fresh shrimp and crab, cheddar cheese and a Hollandaise sauce that should not be missed.

• I blew it on the attendance figure. In normal years, the National Pole Vault Summit draws about 2,500 elite, college and high school jumpers. It was closer to 1,000 in the economic downturn, which is still a good turnout for a field event in a sport followed closely only on a quadrennial basis.

• Rising star? Bemiller loves the sprinting technique of Brazil's Fabiana Murer, the South American women's record holder. "See how quiet her upper body is?" he said. To ensure success in the takeoff phase, pole vaulters must adhere in their run to the vault box to a severity of posture usually reserved for military cadets.

• Other names: Mack finished fifth. The men's vault was won at 17-8 1/2 by Darren Niedermeyer.

"I don't even know where he went to college," one vault coach said.

A wise guy from the media ranks said: "Faber College." (You have to know your Animal House on that one.)

• Stacy Dragila, the first great American women's pole vaulter, could clear only 13-11 1/4. After injuries to both Achilles tendons, her latest comeback has a long way to go. Dragila was inducted into the sport's Hall of Fame over the weekend, an honor she richly deserves for inspiring a generation of American girls.

• Finally, when the Reno bus line that had ferried competitors and media to the arena stopped running at 10 p.m., just as the elite meet was winding down, taxicabs rushed to fill the transportation vacuum. In the queue waiting for a cab, I spotted the women's meet winner Chelsea Johnson, a two-time NCAA champion at UCLA and the daughter of 1972 Olympic pole vault bronze medalist Jan Johnson. She had edged Murer on fewer misses after clearing 14-7 1/4. Chelsea was patiently waiting with fans to hail a cab. Welcome to the world of Olympic sports in a non-Olympic year. Glamour, glamour, glamour.


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