On BRAD WALKER (American Record holder at 19-9¾/6.04): He’s maybe the toughest to comment on because his injuries have caused Brad much more significant setbacks than I anticipated. As far back as ’02, which probably was the first time I saw Brad jump, at the U.S. Nationals, I said then, “That guy is the future of American pole vaulting.”
I think that undeniably he is the most talented guy out there. It’s just all a question of how healthy he can be. If he gets his health back, he definitely is the guy to beat—not only in the U.S., but probably the world.
(Walker is taking some R&R time on Maui now following surgery last spring for the back injury he suffered in ‘09 that kept him from defending his world title.)
I suspect that the recovery from surgery has been much more significant than Brad anticipated it would be.
But another thing Brad has going for him is the overall strength of his mentality. I’m sure he is absolutely confident he ran return to 100% and be competitive. That’s a big part of it; not letting the setbacks break you down in terms of your emotional approach. If you get to the point where you’re ready to throw in the towel, then not only has your body given up, but your mental strength is gone too. And the mental is probably more powerful than anything.
On DEREK MILES (2-time Olympian, reigning Olympic Trials champion): As always, Derek has remained incredibly consistent. He also has done what I was able to do in my career and that is to avoid that big major-setback injury. He had surgery back about ’06 for a stress fracture in his shin, so that caused a couple of slow years. But it wasn’t a major training-type injury. It just took him a while to regain full strength.
I think Derek kind of approaches the event sort of like the Earl Bell philosophy: every day that you’re healthy, you can take steps forward, even if they’re small steps. That’s what I think Derek has done very well.
He has been very methodical in the way he looks at the event and at keeping improving, and he never bites off more than he can chew. As a result, he has really stayed on top of his game and continues to jump very well.
I have no doubt that Derek will not only be successful over the next couple of years, but he’s one of those guys who—through his experience and the approach he takes to the event—when ’12 rolls around, he should be one of the guys who will be right up there and be strong.
I’ve asked him what are his primary motivations and he said, even in press conferences at meets, “I’ve gotten 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th in major championships. So if you make the final, the only place left to go is into the top 3.” So that’s a big source of motivation.
Part of the strength of his motivation comes from those near-misses. I always felt that for myself, if things had gone differently in 2000—if the stretch I had a couple of weeks before the Trials had carried through to making the team and later doing well in Sydney…
That’s a lot of “ifs,” but if it all had happened, I don’t know if the emotional side of my motivation would have stayed as strong had I achieved those things. So in a way, the failure actually provided the impetus for stronger motivation for me to continue jumping. And I know that’s a big part of Derek’s motivation.
In installment 5, Hartwig will continue his 4-part analysis of the leading U.S. men by looking at Jeremy Scott & Scott Roth.
Part 1: Hartwig’s long career leads to a new role as athlete-agent
Part 2: What sets Steve Hooker apart as the world’s best men’s vaulter
Part 3: Talking about Yelena Isinbaeva's X-factor
Between the Q round and final at the ’07 World Championships in Osaka, Walker changed his hairstyle to a Mohawkish do. Must not have hurt, as he managed to add the outdoor world title to the indoor crown he had claimed in ’06.
Miles cleared 18-8¼/5.70 to grab 4th at the Beijing Olympics...
... Two weeks after the Games he cleared his PR to date, 19-2¼/5.85, at a dedicated vault meet in Berlin.