LONDON – It seemed like it might be the Beijing Olympic nightmare all over again for Spokane’s Brad Walker.
Competing in qualifying Wednesday of the men’s pole vault at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the University High grad was on the verge of elimination before he rescued his medal hopes with a dramatic final vault.
After passing on heights of 5.20 and 5.35 meters (17 feet and 17-6, respectively), the 32-year-old started at 5.50 (18 feet). On his first try, his shins struck the bar. On the next attempt, he cleared the bar easily, but his feet tapped the bar over on the way down.
That meant it came down to one final jump to avoid the agony of the same result as Beijing – where he failed to record a single made qualifying jump.
This time, he narrowly made it over – clapping his hands and yelling out in relief just as his back hit the foam padding.
“I was scared I just emotionally wore myself out at that point,” said Walker, who is a four-time world championship medalist. “It was obviously nerve-wracking. The third attempt of the opening bar, kind of reminiscent of Beijing and obviously that didn’t go the way I wanted it to so it was just getting through it and yeah, a big scream after it was over.
“In my own mind, I was remarkably calm. I was obviously stressed going into a third attempt. But I wasn’t freaking out. I was nervous, of course, but I wasn’t shaking. I wasn’t going crazy. I was really confident and collected in my thoughts. But in the middle of the jump, when I left the ground, basically in the middle of the jump, I thought to myself I just blew through and no-heighted again. I literally had that thought. But I got off the pole just in time and I couldn’t have been on the stick any longer or it would have been a miss.”
After that close call, he still needed to clear 5.60 (18-4) to qualify. But with disaster averted, he was able to relax and sailed over the bar easily on his first try, securing one of 14 berths in Friday’s final when the gold medal will be determined.
“Qualifying is done,” said Walker, who volunteered for pole vault in the seventh grade at Horizon Junior High and trained in the U-Hi Track and Field program under coach Reg Hulbert. “Qualifying’s the hardest part of any major championship. I don’t have issues with the final. It was just Beijing and then this. Anyways, I’m looking forward to two days from now. I can’t wait. I’m really excited.”
The top two qualifiers were Raphael Holzdeppe of Germany and Renaud Lavilllenie, who both cleared 5.65 (18-6). Along with Walker, another five vaulters made it in by making 5.60. The remaining six advanced by getting past 5.50. Walker will be the only American in the final after Jeremy Scott and Derek Miles failed to qualify.