From The Daily: Pole Position

Feb. 1, 2010

By Jacob Thorpe
The UW Daily

Some athletes are born to run at great speeds. Crammed with fast-twitch muscle, these men and women were put on this earth to cover a lot of ground, fast.

Other athletes are given great strength. Bursting with muscles that can barely be contained in bronzed, chiseled bodies, these men and women are adored by many and envied by all.

Then there's Scott Roth.

Roth was born to use a large stick to vault his body over other sticks. Really, really high sticks. On Jan. 16 at the UW Indoor Preview, Roth, a junior, cleared the height of 18 feet, 6.75 inches. With that performance, he vaulted his name onto the world stage and secured his place as one of collegiate track's elite vaulters. Roth's height is the second-highest vault in the world this year and the highest by an American. Although the year is young, and other vaulters will certainly best Roth's mark, it is impressive nonetheless. What this performance also does is put Roth's name right up there with UW legend, as well as one of his own idols, Brad Walker.

In coach Pat Licari's 13-year tenure as the vault coach at the UW, he has had the pleasure of coaching some elite vaulters. His prodigies include one Olympian, two NCAA champions, and eight All-Americans, none of them more notorious than Walker, the American record holder and 2007 World Outdoor Champion.

'[Walker is] definitely an inspiration for me,' Roth said. 'I'm really lucky, because I see him when he comes by here or at certain meets, and I always feel like I can talk to him or get advice. He's very supportive of me, and he's been through everything I've been through and more.'

Walker holds the school pole vault record, at 19.25 feet. Roth, an admitted addict to personal records, would find it particularly sweet to take down his mentor's mark.

'That's in the back of my mind,' Roth said. 'I can't help but think if I keep going like I am, I'll get the record. But I have to take it one step at a time, and I'll worry about that later.'

While comparisons between the two are inevitable, Licari says Roth and Walker are very different vaulters.

'From a physical standpoint, they are totally different vaulters,' Licari said. 'Brad is a big, tall, physical guy. Scott is short and fast. Scott has better technique because he has to, not having Brad's height advantage.'

Their one similarity? Their competitive nature.

'When they get out there in a competition ... the bigger the competition, the more intense and ready to compete they are,' Licari said. 'From that standpoint, they're very similar.'

When you first meet Roth, you are struck by how unassuming he is and by how unimposing. Roth's coaches say he is not a loud, boisterous leader, preferring to lead by his actions. Since he is not tall and stocky, he appears almost slight.

You may be thinking, 'He's one of the best athletes in the world? But he looks like me.'

Then you take a second look, and you notice his loaded arms and strong upper body, which are trademarks of his craft. Roth spends most of practice each week working on his core body strength. By your third look, you come to a conclusion: This man could tear me limb from limb.

Roth, whose father was also a collegiate pole-vaulter, did his first vault at the tender age of 10. By his sophomore year of high school, he had cleared 16 feet, 4 inches, almost a full 10 inches higher than any U.S. high-school athlete. In 2005, he took home the silver medal in the IAAF World Junior championships in Morocco.

Since then, Roth's pole-vaulting has taken him all over the world, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to China. He doesn't like to plan too far ahead, but Roth has one eye on the 2012 Olympic games in London. Even though he is only concerned on improving now, his coaches think London could be a possibility.

'Looking at him that day, it looked like he could get close to 19 feet,' Licari said. 'The way he's looking right now, he could put it all together at any time.'

When that happens, the sky is the limit for Roth.

He lives to pole-vault and does it arguably as well as anyone in school history. The scary thing is that he may not even be close to realizing his potential.

Whether or not he'll continue to improve remains to be seen.

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