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Brad Walker no-heights in Olympic pole vault finals

Sat., Aug. 11, 2012

Former University of Washington pole vaulter Brad Walker was unable to clear 18 feet, 6 1/2 inches on three tries. (Associated Press)
Former University of Washington pole vaulter Brad Walker was unable to clear 18 feet, 6 1/2 inches on three tries. (Associated Press)

LONDON – At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Spokane’s Brad Walker finished last after not registering a single vault in qualifying.

Four years later in London, he made it through qualifying, but this time he didn’t clear the bar at any height in the final – missing all three attempts at 5.65 meters (18 feet, 6 1/2 inches).

The gold medal went to Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie with an Olympic-record clearance of 5.97 meters. Otto Bjorn of Germany took silver at 5.91, and his countryman Raphael Holzdeppe captured the bronze by also clearing 5.91. 

Walker described his night as “a complete failure.”

“It’s really frustrating,” said the University High graduate. “I mean, the conditions were perfect. The track was fast. The stage was set and it just didn’t go.  Everybody wants to go in medaling, but my goal is to win. I failed in my mind on what my goal was. I’m distraught about it.”

The American record holder and two-time world champion passed on 5.50 meters, electing to make 5.65 his first height. He described the first miss as “just a little close, so when you’re a little close you can’t transfer all your energy to the pole and you get tossed in the air and get crashing down on top of it.”

On his second attempt, he said he had a “big blow-through, meaning the pole was too small, so it just didn’t release when it needed to.”

And then came his third and final try – the same scenario as Wednesday when he delivered a perfect jump when he needed it. It looked like he had it easily cleared again this time, but something went wrong at the very end of the vault.

“I went up, it was the right pole, the step was right, and I just grazed the bar with my thigh on the way down,” he said. “I was really confident and calm going into the jump. Midway through the jump I was like ‘I got it – nailed it.’ I made the jump and then it just didn’t happen, so it was devastating and disappointing and all those words that you can use.”

After Walker’s disastrous experience in Beijing, he had more troubles in 2009 when he crashed in Monaco, injuring his pelvis and rupturing a disc in his back. After surgery and months of rehab, he returned to the sport and has had made steady progress toward regaining the form he showed when he was a world champion.

“I really truly believe that this was my show, like I really did,” he said. “I really thought that I was going to have a great meet. I’ve been on the biggest poles in my career and been thrown in the air as high as I’ve ever been thrown. I was ready to come jump 6 meters-plus in my mind and my heart. And I knew everyone was going to be jumping well, so I wanted to go head-to-head against them. And I was like, I haven’t come this far in the last four years and struggle and surgery and that crash I had and all that kind of stuff to just no-height at the games. It just didn’t happen and it’s a bummer.”

Now he’ll have to give some thought to his schedule, which will probably involve staying in Europe for a while, and then building up toward next year’s world championships in Moscow. And, of course, there are the 2016 Rio de Janiero Games.

“I’m 31 now so that’ll put me at 35,” he said. “Bjorn, the silver medalist, is 35. I love the vault. I love what I’m doing. I love the journey that it’s brought me on. And I can’t see stopping in the next four years. I’m pretty sure Rio will be in the picture.”

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