Aug. 11, 2005
HELSINKI, Finland - Former Husky pole vaulter Brad Walker became the first Washington track and field athlete since 1984 to win a medal in world championship competition Thursday, capturing the silver medal at the 2005 IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
The 2005 American indoor and outdoor pole vault champion, Walker was one of just two vaulters to clear 18 feet 10 ½ inches Thursday, as a steady wind and intermittent rain appeared to affect several competitors. Holland's Rens Blom cleared a lifetime-best 19-0 ½ for the gold medal -- his first of any kind in World Championships or Olympics competition -- while Russia's Pavel Gerasimov took the bronze.
"It was a rough competition. I even had troubles with my opening height," said Walker, who needed all three attempts to clear 18-0 ½, a height 16 inches below his season-best. "Before my third attempt at that height I said to myself that I deserved to make it. I was very glad when I cleared it."
Blom, too, struggled at the opening height, missing his first two attempts and sending the bar nearly 12 inches into the air on his third, only to see it settle safety back onto the standards.
"I was so lucky, this has never happened to me," Blom said. "It's typical when I hit the bar even a little bit it comes down every time. This was really my day."
Both Walker and Blom settled down at the subsequent heights, each clearing the next two bars on their second attempts to share the lead entering 19-0 ½. Blom followed a first-attempt miss by Walker at 19-0 ½ with a convincing clearance, forcing the Husky vaulter to take his remaining two attempts at 19-2 ½ in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reclaim the lead.
Several of the world's top vaulters faltered in the less-than-perfect conditions, including defending world champion Giuseppe Gibilisco, 2000 Olympic gold medalist Nick Hysong, and No. 4-ranked competitor Tim Lobinger of Germany, none of whom topped 18-2 ½.
"It was a hard day to jump. A lot of the vaulters were out early because of the conditions," Walker said. "After all of those problems I finally ended up in second place, so I'm really happy."
Walker's silver medal performance was a rewarding conclusion to an outstanding professional season, his first since graduating from the University of Washington in 2004. The Spokane native won both the United States' indoor and outdoor national championships, and entered this week's World Championships -- considered the Olympics of track and field in a non-Olympic year -- ranked fifth in the world by the IAAF. His season-best of 19-4 ¼ is the second-best mark in the world this year, and is the 10th-best ever by an American male vaulter.
"This year has been a great year for me; I am extremely excited," Walker said. "It's motivating more than anything. I'm excited to start training for next year. There are bigger and better things to come."
Not in 21 years has a Husky track and field athlete finished on the medal stand at World Championships or Olympics competition, since Sterling Hinds led Canada's 4x400-meter relay to a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Steve Anderson was the last Husky to score a medal in individual competition, capturing the silver in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
Silver medal in tow, Walker will return to Seattle where he trains with Washington assistant coach Pat Licari, and prepare for a run at gold in 2007.
"6.16 [meters -- 20 feet, 2 ½ inches] is a personal goal of every pole vaulter," Walker says of a height two centimeters beyond the current world record. "That is what my focus will be for the next couple of years."
For complete results from this week's IAAF World Track and Field Championships, visit www.iaaf.org.