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Tuesday, February 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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U-Hi grad, Olympic champion trains WSU disciples

The highs in Brad Walker’s life have been measured by the quarter inch.

A graduate of University High, Walker is the finest male pole vaulter the United States has ever produced. At 34, he still holds the U.S. record at 19 feet, 9 3/4 inches – a mark he set in 2008.

Walker had a stellar career. He won five USA Track and Field outdoor championships and four indoor titles. He collected a pair of world championships and competed in two Olympic Games.

He won a pair of PAC-10 titles in his chosen event and two NCAA indoor titles while earning All-America honors four times.

Of course, he won those PAC-10 and NCAA titles while at the University of Washington.

It’s important to note that purple blotch on Brad Walker’s record.

“When I was leaving high school, I seriously considered Washington State,” Walker said. “But at the time, the UW just seemed a better fit for me when it came to the academics I was looking at.”

Walker has returned home. He’s in his first season as an assistant track and field coach at Washington State.

“I love it!” he said. “There’s something about being back in Eastern Washington, about living in a small town and working at a place with great facilities.”

Walker was hired in October to coach the vertical and high jumps and pole vault, but the move from competing to coaching has been in the back of his mind for quite a while.

It started as a seed planted by legendary U-High pole vault coach Reg Hulbert, who taught a strong foundation, and it grew under UW coach Pat Licari, who built on that foundation.

And it bloomed as Walker reached the elite level of competition, where vaulters share information. It was a thrill to see a fellow vaulter take something he’d said and turn it into a higher vault.

Now he intends to pursue that feeling full time.

Each of Walker’s coaches, from Hulbert to Licari to Dan Pfaff and Ty Sevin, built on what he’d learned before – something he now appreciates and has folded into his own coaching philosophy.

“Once you continue to jump higher and higher, it becomes about developing a level of intricacy,” he said. “I learned a great deal from my high school coach, and my college coaches understood the event at the next level.

“Post-collegiately, it’s about the habits of the jump itself. It’s about small tweaks here and there and training to get bigger and stronger.”

Walker likes the group of jumpers he has now.

“The kids I’m coaching are great kids, no two ways around it,” he said. “This is a sound group of athletes who have the right perspective and I’m happy to be around it.”

And he’s already putting his experience to work.

“We have one jumper who is close to becoming elite,” he said. “I only want him jumping (in practice) maybe once a week, because rest and recovery is important. With some of our other jumpers, ones who may need a little more work on their fundamentals, I’ll have them jumping a little more often.

“That’s what I learned at the elite level: Some jumpers are workhorses and diesel pickups and others are Ferraris.”

Walker arrived in Pullman after the signing period for high school juniors ended, so he wasn’t involved in direct recruiting, but he’s looking forward to getting out and talking to young potential Cougs.

You can’t help but think that having a U.S. record holder would hold a certain level of sway when talking to a young jumper. Who wouldn’t want to learn the pole vault from someone who has personally knocked on the door of 20 feet?

Walker said he’s looking for a mix of tangible and intangible aspects in his potential recruits.

“Looking at their marks gives you an idea of a certain level of physical potential, sure,” Walker said. “But there have been very few good, successful careers that didn’t have a major intellectual component.”

Steve Christilaw can be reached at steve. christilaw@gmail.com.

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