May 23, 2010
Senior Ryan Vu's progression as an athlete was charted nicely by his showings at the Pac-10 Championships. As a freshma in 2007, Vu failed to clear a bar. The next season he was 14th, and last year he took eighth, scoring for the first time. Finally, in his last conference meet, Vu cleared a new lifetime-best of 17-7 3/4 to emerge as the Pac-10 Champion. He and junior Scott Roth will now head to the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds in Austin this week as two of the top-10 vaulters in the country. After taking his first conference crown, Vu will be looking to make his first NCAA Championships. The Interlake HS grad talks about the "surreal" experience of his Pac-10 win, the motivating factor of working with Roth, and small prank that started his pole vaulting career.
GoHuskies.com: Congratulations on the huge victory. Can you just look back on the day, what were your expectations going in, and how did it all play out for you?
Ryan Vu: Leading up to it a lot of things were working well in practice and even before the WSU meet I felt really confident Pat (Licari) had basically fixed my run-up. Every time I came down the runway I felt really confident. It's so important in pole vaulting; the confidence. It's not really an event you can go half-way because if you do come down slow you will get rejected and will fall on your butt. I just had a couple great weeks of practice and then it really came to fruition at Ken Shannon when I jumped another PR, and after that I kind of knew I had big jumps in me so I was really excited for Pac-10s.
Leading up, me and Pat recreated what it would be like to jump that high so at practice I took a jump and waited 35 minutes before I took another jump to just recreate it and get rid of my anxiety. At the bigger meets I get amped up and there's no reason for that. If I'm jumping well at practice and jumping well at little meets I should just keep the same mentality at Pac-10s. At the meet itself everything went according to plan. I made my opening height on a second attempt and I made my next height on second attempt. After those two heights I realized there weren't that many people left. Down to about six people it really came down to misses so I tried to make my next couple attempts on my first attempt just to try to get rid of competition. It actually got down to four people at the final height and at the first attempt I actually got rejected as I ran into a headwind and I just jumped up and the pole didn't get me in deep enough so I fell back and hit the edge of the pit and rolled off so that was a rude awakening.
On my second attempt it was actually really close I just didn't swing up very well so I had a very close attempt and I knew on my third attempt I could pull it off and make it happen. To be honest, because I was at the end of the order I completely space out and I didn't realize I was the last at this height. I was just trying to stay focused and do what I had to do. Right before I left I realized if I make this I can win so I ran down, I planted, and to be honest it was just a blur. I like came off the pit and everything just went crazy, I was just blown away thinking that jump was enough to win it.
After about 10 minutes of talking to everybody and getting congratulations, I talked to Pat and decided to move up to 18 (feet). I took basically one good attempt at it, but to be honest my mind was somewhere else, after winning Pac-10s I was completely blown away. That's the meet in a nutshell. It was just surreal, I've been here for four years now, and I've just been trying to work hard and get better every day. Competing with Jared (O'Connor) and training with Scott I had an idea that jumping high and jumping at a competitive level is just about hard work. Running with those guys I felt like I was just as fast and just as strong. It just came down to learning the technique and putting more time into it. I felt like these last two years I've really matured as an athlete and I realized what it takes it to really understand a sport. Now I kind of feel like I want to continue vaulting afterwards. I might have the opportunity to compete for Team Canada and I think I want to do that. My thought process is that you have the rest of your life to work and go to school, but you can only jump for so long. It's just been such a fulfilling experience that I don't want regrets when I get older knowing that maybe I could have been a pretty good vaulter. After this championship I've just been thinking about so many things.
GH: So this meet has changed your outlook a little bit and opened up some more possibilities for you?
RV: I mean even before this people have said I'm really fast and pretty strong, I could be a good vaulter but I honestly didn't really believe it. Its just kind of something people like to say, but after Ken Shannon and Pac-10s I felt like I took pretty good attempts and at higher heights so it might be a possibility for me to even jump higher. It just opened a whole new can of worms.
GH: You had this big win now but of course you've still got one and hopefully two meets left so how excited are you for the rest of the season?
RV: I'm very, very excited! Last year I had a good couple meets right before Regionals then I messed up my ankle and that set me back. It was frustrating because after that injury I had to compete at Canadian Nationals and it was probably the most painful experience of my pole vaulting career. I took a big break after that so it was kind of hard to rebuild. I feel like coming into these Regionals I feel just as confident as I did last year. I hope I don't mess up my ankle this year (laughs). Right now just working with Pat it's just being very consistent, tweaking small stuff, making sure I feel just as confident as I did at Pac-10s. With pole vaulting that stride is one of the biggest things so if I can just stay confident and do what I've been doing in practice, hopefully it will transfer over and I'll have a shot at going to nationals and hopefully at nationals do some damage, but we'll see.
GH: The wind was pretty tough in Berkeley it sounds like and you also were able to fight through bad conditions to win at Washington State. Not to mention some of your best vaults have been in Husky Stadium where it's always windy. What do you do in order to vault well in the wind?
RV: I feel like I have a decent amount of experience from high school, growing up here I kind of had to deal with random weather, it pretty often rains or the wind switches around. In high school I had to jump at a lot of big meets with random conditions so I feel like I got a little bit of experience. My high school coach used to do stuff like throw water at me to make sure that I was mentally prepared. To be honest at Pac-10s I wasn't paying attention to anything else. There would be times that I would run into the headwind and not really know it, and I feel like a lot of the practices that we've had with Pat have really built my confidence and I try to focus on what's at hand because you only have limited attempts at each height. You just have to go for it, even if you risk getting hurt. Usually for wind you have to adjust your step a little bit and keep doing what you're doing. The win can push you around a little bit but you just have to stay focused, it's mostly mental so you just have to go and give it your all.
GH: Now to get the win you had to upset Scott who obviously was the big favorite. What did he say to you afterwards and what has it been like working with him over the past several years?
RV: As soon as I came off the pit he was the first one right there, he just gave me the biggest hug and said, `Congratulations' and `I knew you could do it.' That's what I really respect about Scott; he's really down to earth, he works hard, and I look up to him a lot. He's very modest and just a great person. Afterwards at the airport, everyone kept saying, `There's the Pac-10 champion,' and Scott came up to me and said, `Now you know how annoying it is.' It was just a little inside joke. I think both of us are a little bit more modest. Its a cool bond that we both have now.
Once we got back to Seattle, it's just practice like always. Me and Scott just push each other and try to work hard together. To be honest I know for sure I wouldn't be jumping nearly as high If I didn't have Scott here to push me and to show me I could really compete at that next level, that I had the keys to do it I guess.
GH: You mentioned you and Pat making some tweaks over the past few weeks. What sort of things have you tried to fix?
RV: A lot of it was just my run. With pole vault a lot of people think it's about how well you do that gymnastics move at the top but in reality everything comes from the ground, if you can have a confident run and your last couple steps are powerful and you take off well that leads up to everything afterwards. It comes down to building a foundation. Your run and takeoff is what's key and Pat and I worked on rebuilding that. After the indoor season I didn't have as good as a season as I wanted. We decided just to break things down and start new to make sure I was really confident with the base, the foundation of my run. We just worked on that and everything else just came together. My swing just felt that much better because I was taking off better. I just felt confident and I think that was the biggest change technically.
GH: Did you play many other sports growing up and what first got you thinking you could be a good vaulter?
RV: I actually didn't even do sports until 8th grade when I decided to do track. Back in elementary I used to like racing kids because I was pretty fast, and coming in freshman year I wanted to do sprints, but a friend of mine actually secretly signed up my name for pole vault and on the first day I was confused because they were like Ryan you have to go over there and I just followed a small little group with the pole vaulting coach and I was just very confused. On the second day I stayed with them because I thought it was interesting and something I had never even heard of. I saw the sprinters doing 400s and I didn't really want to do that (laughs) I just want to run straight, anytime you have to curve too much it was probably too long for me. I kind of fell in love with it, my coach in high school was very encouraging and I picked it up. My very first meet I cleared 9-feet and it was probably one of the coolest feelings in the world, floating in the air. So since then I've been hooked I just love the sport, there's just so many great people associated with it. Every track meet I go to I know all the guys jumping and they are very sincerely nice, it's just a very cool environment. I think people really appreciate the idea that you could get hurt at any time so people are always encouraging each other to do well because they understand the risk and the selectivity of the event, it's phenomenal.
GH: So you owe your high school friend a little thank you for the Pac-10 title?
RV: (laughs) I still talk to her all the time, we vaulted a lot in high school but she had injuries so she couldn't jump anymore, but big props to her for sure.