Sept. 1, 2007
OSAKA, Japan - By Paul Merca
OSAKA, Japan - Former University of Washington standout Brad Walker's gamble to pass at 18-10 3/4 after a first attempt miss paid dividends, as Walker won his first outdoor world championship Saturday under perfect jumping conditions clearing 19-2 3/4 before a packed house at Nagai Stadium.
Walker's victory in this event marked the first time that an American male emerged victorious in this event at the IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Additionally, Walker, whose win matches the world indoor title he won in Moscow last year, joins 1500 meter gold medalist Bernard Lagat as the second Washington state-affiliated athlete at these world championships to earn a gold medal.
The 2005 silver medalist and 2007 world leader, who attended University High School in Spokane, Walker cleared 18-1 and 18-6.75 easily on his first attempts, but missed his first try at 18-10.75 before passing on his remaining attempts at the height.
A second- or third-attempt clearance at 18-10 3/4 would have been useless, as Steven Hooker of Australia, Yevgeniy Lukyanenko of Russia and Fabio Gomes Da Silva of Brazil all made the height on their first attempts, and several others had passed the height entirely.
The gamble to pass was successful--Walker cleared 19-0.75 on his first try, putting him back in the medal hunt. Eight men remained in the competition at 19-2.75, including three others - Danny Ecker of Germany, Igor Pavlov of Russia and Romain Mesnil of France - who cleared 19-0 3/4 on their first attempts.
Describing the decision to pass after missing 18-10 3/4, Walker said, "It was one of those good misses. I knew I had the ability to clear 5.81 (19-0 3/4), and the first attempt make at 5.81 put me back in the lead. First attempt clearances in a major championship are a huge thing, and it puts stress on the other competitors. I think the 5.86 (19-2 3/4) first attempt clearance knocked the wind out of some people's sails, and I was lucky to get that jump".
The knockout punch Walker delivered on the competition at 19-2 3/4 made him the first athlete to make the height. Mesnil was the only other vaulter to clear the height on his second attempt, but he was behind Walker based on a earlier miss at 18-6 3/4, which ultimately proved the difference between the gold and silver medals.
Six men took attempts at 19-4.75, and while a few came close, none prevailed, giving Walker his first gold medal. Mesnil took second and Ecker was third at 19-0.75.
In an interview on Friday, Walker revealed that he had not touched a pole, and was unable to train properly between his last competition in Monte Carlo on July 25th, and Thursday's qualifying round of the pole vault, due to a lingering problem with two bulging discs in his back.
"I was gassed, and I had to dig pretty deep because my prep going into this meet wasn't exactly the way I would've liked it. I haven't lifted weights, and I'm a lot lighter than what I normally am. I have a couple of bulged discs, and it's been giving me a lot of pain, and I've had to back off the training," Walker said after the event.
Walker, who continues to train in Seattle at the Dempsey Indoor at the University of Washington, and helps the Huskies as a volunteer assistant coach, gave a lot of credit to his support crew in attendance in Osaka, including Husky jumps coach Pat Licari, agent Peter Stubbs, his girlfriend and former UW pole vaulter Carly Dockendorf, parents Diana & Thomas, and sister Tanya.
Walker sported a Mohawk haircut Saturday night, along with two zig-zagged lines made to look like a lightning bolt on the side of his head, thanks to the work of fellow American vaulter Jacob Pauli, who didn't qualify for the finals.
"I have a really good record of jumping well after a haircut. We thought a lot of speedy lines would add some pizzazz. (The Mohawk) can be anything you want it to be", he said.
For more information on the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, please visit http://www.osaka2007.iaaf.org.
For more information on Washington state-affiliated athletes competing at the world championships in Osaka, please visit http://paulmerca.blogspot.com.