March 20, 2010
On Friday, March 12, Husky junior Scott Roth enjoyed the finest moment of his athletic career, as he soared to the win in the pole vault at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The national title was the first for Roth, and the first for the UW track program since Ryan Brown won the indoor 800-meter title in 2007. He is the third Husky pole vaulter to claim an NCAA title in the last 10 years joining Brad Walker and Kate Soma, all coached by longtime assistant Pat Licari.
Back on campus now and already training hard for the upcoming outdoor season, Roth is more excited than ever for what the coming months hold. He talks about the long list of congratulations he received, his workout routine which does not actually include any vaulting, and talks about the people who helped him become an NCAA Champion through ten years of work.
GoHuskies.com: So as the saying goes, how long did it take to sink in that you were the NCAA Champion?
Scott Roth: It didn't take that long to sink in. I had it in my mind that going there I had a really good shot at winning the thing. I felt like if everything went as planned, that's what was going to happen, I was going to win. I knew that after I hit that 5.72 mark, I knew even jumping at that bar I could still go higher. At Nationals I felt like I could have got 19-feet that day, I was jumping on the biggest pole I've ever been on, I was just rolling down the runway, and felt amazing. So yeah it has sunk in at this point. All my family and friends have congratulated me, I talked to [Equipment Manager] Gary McGuire and he's trying to get me a ring and stuff, it's crazy, but yeah it's definitely sunk in at this point.
GH: What kind of messages or congratulations did you get in the days after winning?
SR: It was kind of funny because my mom got a bunch of calls from relatives that didn't have my number, so they congratulated me through her. So she was just like, `Alright, the easiest way for me to do this is to just list off the names. Here's who wants to congratulate you.' She listed all these people then she's like, `Congratulations.' But right after I did it, within 30 minutes, people started calling and texting. It just feels good to know that all those people are watching me. I'm lucky to have a lot of fans, you know? Those are the people that mean a lot too me too, relatives and close friends, and it was just a great day to be able to talk to them, and they're just as excited as I am.
GH: I heard you had a bit of a mishap at NCAAs, forgetting to bring your uniform?
SR: Yeah, man, you wonder how I'd ever be able to win the title being as absent-minded as I am. I was freaking out. Basically I packed my bag and I remember packing everything I needed for warm-ups, for the plane ride and whatnot. I guess I didn't even think of the uniform because how could I forget that? That's the one thing you can't forget, but I did. They ended up mailing one and everything worked out, but I was definitely scared. I was having visions of me jumping in a girl's uniform or something terrible like that.
GH: So now you've gone right back to work since getting back from Fayetteville? You've been practicing all week?
SR: Pretty much. I feel like I haven't had a break since the (2009 U.S.A. Championships) really. I barely got any sleep Saturday, and right after I got back I just got right into studying for finals. I had two really big tests on Wednesday. They went alright but I felt like I needed more time. It was really rushed and now right after my finals ended at 4:30 yesterday and Pat's like, `Yep, come in at five today, we're practicing.' Went and just did a really hard weights workout. So pretty much no break but I don't mind, I don't need a break and I don't really want one because the more time you take off the longer it takes to get back. There's probably guys out there training when I would be resting. I'm sure he's ramping up the workouts. I know he is and I'm going to tell myself he is because that's what makes me work hard.
GH: After the meet you made sure to thank your father, Curt, for helping get you to where you were entering college. Was he a vaulter as well?
SR: He was, yeah, he vaulted in high school and college. He had the Sacramento State record of 16-4, held it for quite awhile, I think it was broken in the late 90's. Back then that's a good mark and he didn't have a coach either, so he did most of that by himself. He got me into the sport when I was eleven years old, took me to a local high school and had me try it. I picked it up pretty quickly considering my age and my size. We got a pit about a year after that, put it in our backyard, and started training and learning the vault. It took a long time and trial and error. My dad will be the first to admit that the first time we started vaulting he was telling me all kinds of wrong stuff. But luckily we figured it out soon after that with clinics and videos, and studying vaults of elite athletes. By the time I got to college I had a pretty solid vault. Pat has improved it a lot, but it was pretty good to begin with thanks to my dad. Without my dad, let's say I had chosen to vault anyway, without him encouraging me there's no way I'd be going as high as I am now. There's no way I'd have a national title, I probably wouldn't be at this school or if I was I would have been a walk-on, so I have a lot to thank my dad for.
Coach Licari has done the final part of it all. He's done just an amazing job as well. He's always on top of things, coming up with a plan for me. We were at the airport on the way to go home and he already had a plan for what we're doing next. It's cool to know that he puts the time into actually plan that and think about it all, so he's been a really great coach. I needed both of them to do what I did.
GH: Coach Licari's resume is obviously very impressive at this point. What sort of specific things make him such a great vault coach?
SR: There's a lot. You could have somebody with a great amount of technical expertise who's just not a good coach. Pat, that's who he is, he's born a coach. He's just got the character. To be a good coach you've got to be personable with the athletes, and you've got to actually care about the athletes, and think about it when you go home. I guarantee when Pat goes home he thinks about my vault and the other athlete's vaults too. It's not a job to him, it's a passion, and that's why he's good. Of course he's very knowledgeable as well, he's been around the vault and learns about it and thinks about it and that's what it takes.
GH: All indoor season you were very consistent. You won every meet and didn't have a no-height performance or anything which can always happen in the vault. What helped make you so solid every time out?
SR: A lot of it is confidence. This year I've been a lot more confident with everything. Pole vault being a mental sport, confidence is probably the most important thing you can have. Running full-speed down a runway with a pole and if you have any hesitation whatsoever it's going to mess you up. That's the main thing. My back being healthy for once is a large part of it as well. Having an injured back kind of shattered the confidence (two years ago). I didn't feel strong or fast on the runway, also I was scared to plant the pole because it would hurt every time I did, so I was hesitant. This year I just feel great physically and mentally as well.
GH: Now some people may not know that you don't actually practice vaulting much if at all, so what types of things do you work on in practice?
SR: It's changed since Nationals; this first week we just did is different. But what I was doing was a highly-modified workout for my back. Because of my back I had to change what I'd been doing my first two years. I saw a physical therapist, and got some really good workouts for my back that are safe for it and don't aggravate it and strengthen it. I was doing all that kind of stuff in the weight room. As far as core strength I was doing a lot of Bubkas, which is a pole vault exercise that mimics some of the motions of the vault. I was getting really good at those. All the stuff was high weight, low repetition, and safe on my back. They were all mimicking motions of the pole vault. It wouldn't be beneficial for me to go in and try to get as huge as I can by trying to doing tons of curls and bench presses just for the sake of being strong. In the pole vault it's about strength to body-weight ratios, and you don't want to build muscles that you don't use in the vault because they're just weighing you down, and you want to be light so the pole can give you as much return as possible and launch you off the top. It's all about efficiency in the pole vault as well as power and speed. So yeah my workout's a little different than most people's but it's seemed to work for my back.
On the track there's lots of running, lots of speed stuff, working on top speed, running tall, the rhythm of the run. Then pretty much no vaulting, surprisingly. I've taken enough vaults in my life where I could take six months off and go out there and take a vault and it would be just as good as when I left off pretty much. It's just so ingrained in my mind that I don't lose it by taking a break, and in fact I actually get better sometimes if I take a break. That's why we took two weeks off from vaulting before Nationals. The idea is you don't want to take jumps if they're worse than they are in meets, you know? My best vaults are at meets, so if I go to practice and my vaults are worse than in meets, then I'm reinforcing bad habits and it's just not worth it, and I'm potentially hurting my back more. So Pat and I are in great agreement on that and it's worked really great this season.
GH: Another aspect that the average fan probably doesn't know much about is the poles themselves. At NCAAs you missed two attempts at the winning height before making it on your third, and you said that you felt you just needed a bigger pole. Can you explain the differences and the effects you're looking for out of the different sizes?
SR: Poles are relatively the same as far as the brand goes. I jump on UCS Spirits, they're a little bit heavier than carbon poles but they seem to break less. I've seen too many of the carbons break. Then within the poles there's different flexes, weights, and lengths. To vault high you want to be on as stiff of a pole as possible and as long a pole as possible with a high grip height. Typically you don't want to change your grip height too much, you try to keep that constant year to year. I don't want to change my grip up and down every jump I take. But what you do change is the flex, depending on how you're jumping and how powerful you are on the runway. So basically I was on all the same length poles at Nationals but I kept going up flexes. What it ultimately does is just throw your body more. The pole is a little bit thicker; it would be analogous to a thicker rubber band. You can shoot something further with a thicker rubber band if that's what you're trying to do. So that's the idea behind the poles, just trying to move up poles. I've been one for trying to move up a pole every jump I can. I got on the biggest pole I've been on at Nationals, and was pretty close to making 19-feet.
GH: So how does the pole you use compare to the one someone like Brad Walker vaults with?
SR: It's way bigger than what I use, because he's a bigger guy and a better vaulter than me. His PR is a foot higher than mine. I'll never be on as big a pole as he is because I'll never weigh that much, but it's all about the pole relative to your body size. For instance there's a guy from France right now who's lighter than me and vaulted almost as high as Brad, but he's on a much smaller pole than Brad is, but it's because he's a smaller guy that he goes almost just as high. So it's all relative.
GH: Looking ahead now to your outdoor season, how does it shape up?
SR: We've got Pepsi coming up soon. We've got Pac-10s in Berkeley. I'll probably jump at Mt. SAC Relays, Regionals [now known as NCAA First and Second Rounds] and then Nationals, so it's a pretty full season but it should be fun.