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Interval Session #87 - Jack Whitt

By Dave Devine - January 9, 2009

It didn't take long for fans of high school boys' pole vaulting to find their first 17-footer of 2009.  Competing at the Reno Pole Vault Summit three days into the new year, Norman North OK senior Jack Whitt delivered on the promise of his junior campaign with a 17-00.00 clearance on his third attempt to emerge as the top-ranked boys vaulter for this young indoor season.  Hovering in the mid- to upper-16's all last year, Whitt had great performances at the Texas Relays (where he soared to his previous PR of 16-9), the Oklahoma 6A state meet (16-7) and the USATF Junior Olympic National Championships, where he was awarded the national title in a jump-off at 16-08.75, but was erroneously credited with a mark of 17-02.75 (the next height) by meet officials.  Thus, heading into the Reno competition, while Whitt had cleared 17 feet at a camp the previous week, he had never cleared that bar in competition. That lofty barrier is behind him now, and he's looking ahead to a 2009 in which the sky is literally the limit.  

DyeStat senior editor Dave Devine chalks his hands and marks his steps for some quick run-throughs with the talented Oklahoma aerialist.
1) First of all, congratulations on your win at the Reno Pole Vault Summit and your US#1 17ft clearance.  Can you take us back through the series, how your jumps went as you approached and then cleared 17 feet?  You told Rich Gonzalez in the video interview that you were shaky at 16-2, and then needed 3 attempts at 17-- did you think you had a 17 foot clearance in you heading into the weekend?

My first two jumps (at 15'2 and 15'8) weren't as good as I had wanted them to be, but I was happy to make the bars. On my third attempt at 16'2, I knew I had to make the bar in order to win, even though I think I might have won off of misses. I really wanted to take some shots at 17'0, so I had to clear 16'2 in order to move up to the next height. After clearing the bar, I moved it to 17'0 and missed twice. Before my third jump I really tried to focus in on what I needed to do to make the bar. Since I cleared 17'0 the previous week at Earl Bell's Pole Vault Camp, I knew that I could make it, I just had to put it together.

On my third attempt everything worked how it needed to and I actually put some room on the bar. After making 17'0, the bar went to 17'4. I made two very good attempts at 17'4, but kept hitting it on the way down. Hopefully I can jump higher as my indoor season progresses.
2)  Can you talk about the environment at the Reno Summit?  Judging from photos, it's a huge celebration of everything related to pole vaulting.  With elites, post-collegiate, high schoolers, and youth vaulters all competing on multiple runways, it must be crazy. For those who've never been, what's the Reno Summit like, what are your favorite parts, and how do you concentrate with so much vaulting going on around you?

The environment at The Summit is not like any other track meet. At track meets, the attention is spread to a lot of other events, but at The Summit everyone is there for pole vaulting and everyone shares the same passion. With all the other high school, collegiate and elite vaulters present, it is a totally different feeling to know that some of the best in America are watching while you vault. My favorite part of The Summit is the interaction between all the pole vaulters and meeting so many new people. Also, I really enjoy just watching while other groups compete at all the different levels. When it's time to vault, I try get in my "zone" and focus on specifically my vaulting, but I still try to have fun and be friendly at the same time.

3) You also mentioned in your interview that you were up on a bigger pole for the 17-foot clearance, and it was the first time you'd planted it since last summer.  What are some of the trade-offs for a vaulter in moving up to a bigger pole?  What are the challenges and benefits?  Do you spend a lot of time in practice working in a new pole before you debut it in a major competition?
The pole that I jumped 17'0 on was the same pole that I won USATF JO Nationals with, from the exact same run. Earlier in the outdoor season at Texas Relays I was on the same pole from two strides longer. You need to be on a pole that you are comfortable with and know how it works. Going up pole is sometimes nerve-racking for me, but it is necessary to get better and make those higher bars. It is always a good feeling to have planted a pole in practice before using it in a meet. For me, I usually stick to shorter runs in practice so sometimes I get stuck having to plant a pole in a meet that I haven't ever jumped on, or in this case, haven't jumped on in a long time. I try to trust my instincts about moving up or down poles.

4) One thing I've noticed as I've attended national-level meets is the camaraderie among the elite high school vaulters. Even in the midst of heated competition, there's a lot of encouragement and helping fellow vaulters with their steps, their standards, even loaning poles.  Is that something you've encountered, and if so, what do you think accounts for that?  Is it the relatively close-knit nature of the sport, paired with the inherent difficulty?  Is it a mentality that older vaulters pass on to younger vaulters when they're getting started?

I try my hardest at track meets, big and small, to help other jumpers achieve new heights. At The Summit, I actually loaned some chalk and a pole to two of my competitors. If I was in a situation where I needed something at a track meet, I would hope that other vaulters would help me out (which they previously have). Growing up, I was taught to be friendly, even when in a competition. In other sports players usually dislike their competitors, but in pole vault I have learned that its not just about winning and jumping high, but also about building friendships with your fellow vaulters.

5) You had some great performances last year, getting up to 16-9 at the Texas Relays and 16-8.75 at the USATF Junior Olympics in the summer, but it seemed like things didn't go your way at Nike Outdoor Nationals, which I know was the case with a number of the top guys.  Can you talk about that competition, how it went for you, and maybe what you came away from there thinking about?

Nike Outdoor Nationals began with an 18-hour car ride for my dad and I. At the meet, I had a great warm-up where I actually jumped a 16'9 bungee. I thought things were going great until I attempted at my first bar. The wind became a swirly wind, which I am not used to jumping in. This year, I have tried to jump more in unpredictable weather so I can be more prepared for meets like Nike Outdoor. There was a great atmosphere at Nike, but I was not prepared for the conditions during our jumping.
6) Last year, everyone seemed to know Nico Weiler, as he was certainly a standout in both vaulting talent and personality.  Now that he's moved on to college, who do you see as some of the top guys this year?  Are there any vaulters in particular you either look forward to jumping against or think might be ready for a big year in 2009?

Last year at The Summit was the only time that I jumped against Nico. Although we did not have a returning 17'0 jumper (besides [Corey] Shank as a sophmore) this year, I feel like there should be many kids over 17'0 later in the year. Logan Cunningham, Mick Viken, Corey Shank, Chase Cooper and Sam Ewing (junior) are all looking to be good competition in 2009. I have jumped against almost all the top returning jumpers in the nation besides Corey Shank, but I am looking forward to jumping against him this year. All of these jumpers are great jumpers and I am looking forward to seeing them this season.

7) I know you've committed to attend Oral Roberts University, where you'll be coached by all-timer Joe Dial.  He was the first 18-footer in high school, coming out of Oklahoma, and of course went on to a great career after high school with US and World records.  Is he someone you knew about growing up, or learned about when you first got into vaulting?  How did that relationship form and what things are you excited about, as you think about competing for Oral Roberts next year?  What things about the university appealed to you besides the coaching?

Growing up, I wasn't big into track, but I played about every other sport out there. As a sophmore at my first meet, I only jumped 11'6. Throughout the year, I got a lot stronger and faster. I jumped 15'0 at our State Championship Meet where I met Tim McMichael (who was coached by Joe Dial during his career). Through Tim I got a lot better and many colleges started to recruit me, including Oral Roberts. I knew about Joe Dial from Tim and studying vaulting my sophmore year. I believe that attending Oral Roberts will allow me to have a great coach, along with receiving a great education.

Photos:Rich Gonzalez, DyeStatCal

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