Pole-vaulting to the top of the world

May 14, 2008

By Honsen LinThe Daily

How would you feel if you were the No. 1 globally ranked athlete in your sport?

Confident? Proud? A little cocky, even?

How about nonchalant?

Brad Walker, a University of Washington alumnus and former Husky pole-vaulter, listed his accomplishments as casually as if he were naming off his sports memorabilia.

Walker has been the gold medalist at the 2007 Outdoor Championships, gold medalist at the 2006 Indoor Championships and the No. 1 pole-vaulter in the world since 2007.

He talks about vaulting to the No. 1 spot in a matter-of-fact manner, much like a math professor teaching derivational calculus would.

'Once I started jumping professionally and started jumping overseas, I just had to continue to get better as an athlete and work my way to the top,' Walker said. 'Now that I've reached the top, it's just motivating to work that much harder to stay there.'

Walker is a self-motivator who tells himself, 'You're capable of being at the top of the world, so you're also capable of holding that rank.'

This year will mark Walker's second time at the Olympic trials, and though he is projected to be a virtual shoe-in for the U.S. Olympic team, Walker remains cautiously optimistic.

'My number one goal is to go there and hopefully win the Olympic Trials,' Walker said. 'But because the top three people go to the Olympics, I'll be happy with any of those top three spots.'

Walker's past experience in the 2004 Olympic Trials, when he finished sixth, may help him overcome challenges and prepare him better for this summer.

'I kind of have an idea of what the emotional roller coaster that is the Olympic Trials is all about,' Walker said. 'It's a pretty cutthroat competition.'

Walker is no stranger to roller coaster-type settings.

'Brad had his ups and downs from the very beginning,' said UW track coach Greg Metcalf. '[But] he always performed well at big events.'

UW vaults coach Pat Licari praised Walker on his character.

'I thought very highly of him. He was great,' Licari said. 'He was an amazing competitor, and he was determined to win whenever he got into a big competition.

Walker still trains with Licari, who is one of two coaches who shaped him into the pole-vaulter he is today.

'He grew a lot. He was a good high school pole-vaulter, but not great and now he's the best in the world,' Licari said. 'He didn't even win the state meet here in Washington when he was a senior [in high school]. He got second, so it gives you an idea of where he was back then.'

Continuing on his humble persona, Walker attributed much of his enormous success to Licari and Hulbert.

'[Hulbert] set up a lot of good fundamentals and gave me the success that I had in high school,' Walker said. 'He was definitely instrumental in helping me to jump high and setting up a foundation to jump high. Those two coaches have really brought me through the system of pole-vaulting and have really got me where I am today.'

Walker, a native of Spokane, got interested in track and field when he was in seventh grade after watching his sister compete in the high jump.

'She opened my eyes up to the sport as a whole and I thought track and field would be fun to do,' Walker said. 'When I started in the seventh grade after seeing her do the high jump, I thought it looked like a pretty fun sport.'

From then on, he got interested in the pole-vault and started participating in the event.

However, it wasn't until college that Walker started to seriously compete in the pole vault. Even then, athletics were a secondary decision on choosing the university he wanted to attend.

'WSU at the time actually had a better track program than UW did,' Walker said. 'But I chose based on academics versus athletics and turned down a bigger scholarship at WSU to go to UW and go to the business school there.'

While Washington may have been the top choice academically out of high school, it proved to hit the top of the list athletically as well.

'I couldn't imagine my athletic career anywhere else,' Walker said of his UW experience. 'I had a great athletic career and two NCAA Indoor titles.'

Walker still keeps in touch with his friends from the team and works as a volunteer coach for the Huskies when he isn't pole-vaulting for Nike.

'The [UW] experience was great. There weren't any negatives [about it] that I can think of,' Walker said.

Walker, a UW business school alumnus, now spends his days training for the Olympics and other top pole-vaulting competitions.

'There's a lot of different things we do during every workout,' Walker said. 'We have sprints and weights and jumps sessions, and we do a lot of therapy to stay healthy. We have pretty long days of just working out.'

The 26-year-old Walker is still relatively young for a pole-vaulter. Pole-vaulters can vault until their early 30s, he said, which is why he hasn't thought much about life after vaulting. Yet, he hints at an interest in coaching the sport.

'At an elite level or a professional level, there's only a handful of coaches that coach professional vaulters,' Walker said. 'I think that it would be kind of fun to get into coaching and work with people who already made the transition from college to international competition.'

The 2008 Beijing Olympics are on the horizon for Brad Walker, and hopes are high.

'I think they're really good, but he's got to get there first,' Licari said of Walker's Olympic goals. 'He's had a great track record in the major meets in the last three years or so. ... I think he's got a chance to not only win the Olympic gold medal, but he could also be the world record holder,' Metcalf said.

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