Monday, June 9, 2008

More with Brad Walker at the Nike Prefontaine Classic...

Three years ago, I conducted an interview with pole vaulter Brad Walker (above/photo by Paul Merca) the day before he finished second at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Helsinki, Finland, where he spent some time in front of a computer designing a personalized running shoe.

I wrote, “Walker’s obsession with 6.16, and thinking big about his goals in the sport inspired him to design a customized running shoe at Nike’s headquarters in Helsinki the day before the finals of the World Championships in August with those numbers inscribed on the tongue of his footwear as a reminder of the ultimate goal.”

“6.16 is a personal goal of every pole vaulter (20-2 1/2) and so that’s what I put on my shoe. 6.16 is what my focus will be for the next couple of years”.

After winning the event at the Nike Prefontaine Classic Sunday with a new American record of 19-9 3/4, obliterating the previous mark of 19-9 1/4 set by Jeff Hartwig. He then had the bar raised to 6.16 in an attempt to take down legendary Ukrainian Sergey Bubka’s world outdoor record of 6.14 (20-1 3/4), and all-time best of 6.15 (20-2) set indoors.

The fact that he did it in a meet where Hartwig was competing in was not lost on the Mountlake Terrace resident, who is temporarily based in Stockton, California in the run-up to the Olympic Trials and Olympics.

"I always thought if I did it, I'd want to do it at a meet that Jeff was at," Walker said. "We're great friends. We've talked a lot over the years. He's given me pointers. He hugged me and told me `Good job.'"

Even though he’s one of America’s “can’t-miss” track and field stars, Walker is cognizant of the fact that the pole vault is one of the most unpredictable events in track and field, where factors such as wind direction, pole selection, and even broken poles are the difference between Olympic glory and being a footnote.

"You accept what your event is, that anything could happen at any time," Walker said. "I've broken my thumb, I've seen people end up with stitches. You accept it for what it is, but you just don't focus on what could go wrong, because if you do, you're focusing on the wrong thing."

His mark of 19-9 3/4 was the highest vault by anyone, anywhere, in seven years, and makes Walker the fourth best performer in the event, all-time, behind Bubka, Maksim Tarasov (Russia), and Dimitry Markov (Australia).

"I'm confident, you know, but I'm never going to overlook the pressure and the competition at trials," he said. "I still need to focus and still need to make sure that everything's in working order by the time I get there."

Commenting on the new runway at Hayward Field, where he will compete for a spot on the Olympic team in three weeks, he said, “The track’s nice! Eugene, when the weather’s nice, is one of the best places in the world to jump. My first 5.90 (19-4 1/4) jump was here in 2005, and it was a huge deal for me.”

After clearing the American record, he was charged with a time foul for not making an attempt within the allotted 5 minutes, stating afterwards that he was a bit exhausted physically and emotionally from the previous effort.

“There are some technical issues that can turn to major flaws when you’re jumping at big heights. I know what I did wrong today, and I know what I need to do to correct it.”

He stated that his back, which bothered him throughout last season, is feeling better than it ever has.

For his efforts at Pre, he was named the recipient of the Maria Mutola Outstanding Athlete of the Meet, and earned a $2500 Visa debit card as the Team USA Athlete of the Meet.

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