Thursday, June 9, 2022

A Night WIth The Pole Vault

TigerBlog turned on the NCAA track and field championships last night just in time to see two things.

First, there was the fact that newly remodeled Hayward Field at the University of Oregon is amazing. Second, there was Princeton's Ed Trippas, on his final two laps of the 3,000 meter steeplechase second semifinal. Trippas, a 2021 Olympian in the event, finished second in his heat, easing into tomorrow night's final.

By the time Trippas finished his race, Sam Ellis had run the third-fastest 1,500 semifinal time and was one of six runners to finish between 3:37.39 and 3:37.94. Ellis ran 3:37.60, for a new school record. The 1,500 final will be tomorrow at 9:12, the race right before the steeplechase final.

Next up was the pole vault. TB went to that just in time to see Simen Guttormsen clear 17-4 1/2 — very easily — to move into first. And then?

There was a long wait until either Simen or his brother Sondre vaulted again. They are not strangers to how NCAA competition works; Sondre was the NCAA indoor champion this past winter, when Simen finished third.

TigerBlog didn't know much about the pole vault before watching last night, from start to finish. The ESPN3 coverage consisted of a single camera that followed each vaulter without any commentary, which was pretty much perfect.

It didn't take long to realize that vaulters were passing on various heights, so that the standings didn't accurately reflect who was actually in the best position. The leaderboard on the screen told you who the current vaulter was and how'd he done, which heights, how many misses. 

If you cleared a height, your name moved up the chart, depending on how many misses you had to that point. If you got to three misses at one height, your name dropped to the bottom and became lighter, signalling that you were out. Each vaulter waved to the crowd as he was eliminated.

With each height, a few of the vaulters fell by the wayside, and it became more dramatic. Several cleared heights along the way after having two misses, meaning it was either advance or go home on the third one at that height. Getting three more vaults at the next height was a huge prize. Often, the vaulters would either knowingly or unknowingly clap their hands or pump their fist on their way down after a successful clear.

For the first 1:45 or so of the competition, that early vault by Simen Guttormsen was the only Princeton one. TB watched all the rest of them, though. And he could see the brothers in the background of the shot several times, and they didn't exactly look nervous or stressed.

Oh, and there was a guy with a safari hat, sunglasses and two flags, one white and one red, who was running the event. Nobody was going to vault until he said so, and your vault wasn't good or bad until he raised one of his flags.  

Eventually the original field of was dwindled to eight, including both brothers. Simen had missed and then easily cleared 18-0 1/2. Sondre vaulted once to that point, easily knocking off 17-10 1/2 and then passing again. Sondre was tied for seventh on the leaderboard at this point.

Next up was 18-4 1/2.  Simen missed. Then Simen cleared — and pumped his fist. Why not? It was a personal best. Then the field was down to six vaulters: one each from Stephen F. Austin, Kentucky, Brigham Young and Sam Houston and two from Princeton.

To 18-6 1/2. Simen cleared. Sondre missed his first attempt. And his second. And then passed on his third. Off to 18-8 1/4, where Sondre had to make it on the first try — and did. Exhale.

The pole vault had now stretched to three and a half hours, but it was really picking up pace and drama at this point. Stephen F. Austin missed his third straight. Now there were five. And then, it was Simen's turn again, and he .... missed. Eliminated, he waved to the crowd and lingered briefly on the mat.

BYU went out next. Because Simen had cleared a better height, he finished fourth, as a first-team All-American. 

Now there were three. Sondre and Stephen F. Austin (Clayton Fritsch) had already cleared 18-8 1/2. Keaton Daniel of Kentucky cleared 18-6 1/2. He missed at 18-8 1/4 and passed to 18-10 1/4, where he missed his first. So did Fritsch, at 18-10 1/4. And so did Sondre.

Fritsch had only one miss prior to this height. Sondre had two. If neither cleared, then Fritsch would win by fewer misses. Daniel missed again. Now it was down to Sondre and Fristch, who missed his second attempt. 

Sondre's turn. He ratcheted up his intensity level, that's for sure. You could see it clearly on his face. First he sneered. Then he cleared. 

Now it was down to Fritsch. Make it and the competition continues. Miss it, and Sondre was the outdoor champ as well as the indoor champ.

And ... no good. Sondre Guttormsen was the champion again. His brother Simen finished fourth. That's an amazing effort by the brothers.

It took nearly four hours when all was said and done, and Sondre had pulled off some high-pressure clutch makes when he needed them most. That's what champions do.

And now he is an indoor and outdoor champion (Princeton's second, by the way; Tora Harris did so in the high jump in 2002 as well). 

Sondre took a shot at 19-2 3/4. At this point, the drama of the long night with the pole vault was over. It ended with another Princeton national championship.

No comments: