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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Blanchette: Whitworth pole vaulter Joe Green just flaky enough

On Whitworth University’s athletic web site, Joe Green’s profile lists as his hobbies as rock climbing and welding, along with “yelling, clapping, eating Doritos.” Is he: Tight end, First baseman, Heavyweight wrestler or, Pole vaulter? OK, too easy. Part of the pole vaulting code is that you have to display the occasional flaky tendency or risk being thrown out of the union. “Hey, we fill out the same (profile) form every year,” he alibied. “I’ve done it three times for football and four times for track. I just wanted to see if anyone was paying attention.” We were. We also noted, one line later, that the athlete he most admires is the late John Pennel, who never won an Olympic medal and who last cleared a crossbar more than two decades before Joe Green was born. “First man over 17 feet,” Green explained. That he was. And the most recent man over 17 feet? Joe Green. This is no longer punching a hole in the sky, not with the world record up above 20 feet. But it’s still rare air at the NCAA Division III level, and it made for quite an evening last week at Boppell Track, where Green broke the Whitworth record he set four times last year. Yes, four times. That’s a season – or four – for any good vaulter. And the fun nearly didn’t get off the ground. Green needed three attempts to clear his opening height of 15-5, finally abandoning an overworked pole for a bigger, sturdier model – “a tree trunk,” he said – he’s been trying to break in.  Then came a clearance at 15-11 and another at 16-43/4 for the school record. Up went the bar to 16-71/2 – 5.07 in meters. Why 5.07? “Because it beats the women’s world record of 5.06,” Green said. “How many people can say they’re better than any woman in the world?” Well, one fewer now, apparently. Then came another clearance at 16-91/4 before the big one, another third-jump nail-biter that saw him graze the bar going over. Seeing it cling to the pegs up there at 17 feet was the best feeling. “Next to falling,” he said. Such is the vaulter’s art. Every track and field athlete lives for the personal best – the extra foot in the javelin, the fractions shaved off the 100-meter time. But in the vault, it’s just a means to extend that tumble from the heavens. Not that Green is above such mundane matters as actual competition. This weekend he aims for his first Northwest Conference championship in Newburg, Oregon – he’s been runner-up to teammates the past two years – and next month he’ll try to down the only D-III vaulter ahead of him, freshman prodigy Luke Winder of North Central College, who’s been over 17-81/2. “I’m not done yet,” he said. “There’s so much to improve, and there’s plenty of season left.” In any case, Green has come a long way from the 13-6 vaulter he was at Cashmere High School – to say nothing of the freshman coach Toby Schwarz scolded for jumping off the roof of the Boppell equipment shed into the vault pit. “He was that kind of guy,” Schwarz said. “It was the Joe show. This year, I made him captain. That’s how much the team means to him now.” Even by the vault’s free-spirit mold, Green is a different cat. In a sport often overrun with compact gymnasts, he stands 6-5. His middle school specialty was the mile. He showed up as a freshman with an A.A. from Wenatchee Valley College via Running Start. But while injuries and disillusionment drove him to chuck football at Whitworth after 21/2 years, he postponed graduation last spring to return for his senior year of vaulting. And two years ago, he spent his summer selling pest control contracts in the sweltering Texas heat, going door-to-door 11 hours a day, six days a week. “Worst job ever,” he said. “Made a ton of money, though.” Don’t tell the rest of the vault fraternity, but there’s a lot more salt of the earth than lunatic fringe in Joe Green. This summer, he’ll settle for working three part-time jobs while he sifts through career-starting inspirations. “You know that scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where Matt Damon’s laying into that dude that he’d ‘dropped 150 grand on an education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library?’” Green said. “Well, that’s something I took to heart. So I’ll go to the library and pick up a random. I found one on Buzz Aldrin and it turns out the guy was a pole vaulter. “He went 13-9 on a bamboo pole.” Then he went to the moon. Looking up from 17 feet, maybe the sky isn’t the limit for Joe Green.
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