Steamboat Springs senior pole vaulter breaks school record
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Eric Casey runs, plants his pole then swings his legs forward before powering himself upward and twisting to his left.
The Steamboat Springs High School senior’s precision puts him at a noticeably higher caliber than his competitors during the warm ups. Without the bar to measure, no one knows how high he flies.
Three warm up run-throughs and Casey takes his spot on the bench to watch the event play out. West Grand High School’s Hugh Wheatley was the last competitor before Casey’s entry, vaulting a height of 11 feet, 4 inches.
Casey’s first vault was at 13 feet, 4 inches.
Casey took to the runway an hour after his warm up. Seven running events have passed, and he’s downed most of a bottle of orange Powerade.
He takes two warm up leaps. When he clears 13 feet, 4 inches, he takes his full five minute rest. Normally, other competitors would take their turns during this time, but why rush?
March 15: at Rifle
March 23: at Grand Junction
March 30: at Grand Junction
April 6: at Eagle Valley
April 13: at Glenwood Springs
April 17: vs. Aspen, Moffat County
April 19: at Coal Ridge
April 20: at Dakota Ridge
April 26: at Moffat County
May 2 to 4: at Grand Junction
May 10: at Grand Junction, Longmont
May 11: at Grand Junctions
May 15 to 18: state
Sunny skies and a slight tailwind were perfect conditions for Casey to break his own school record of 14 feet, 1 inch. He set that last week in Glenwood Springs.
A crowd of athletes sits in a line on the turf field. Another group sits on the high jump pit. They cheer as he clears 13 feet, 10 inches on his second attempt. When the bar is raised, he clears 14 feet, 4 inches, a new school record, on his first attempt.
Casey decides to try to beat the current state leader, Silver Creek High School junior Hunter Potrykus. Potrykus’s state-leading mark in Class 4A is 14 feet, 8 inches.
The bar is moved up to 14 feet, 10 inches.
“He could’ve gone 14-6, sure and made another 2 inches,” Steamboat jumps coach Gene Bridgewater said. “In his mind, he’s thinking about state and where he is in the state. I let him have the call.”
Casey didn’t clear the height on three attempts. He was close to clearing 14 feet, 9 inches last weekend in Glenwood Springs, but the cold conditions made it difficult for him.
“I want to continue with the 6-inch increments,” Casey said. “I didn’t really want to think about changing it up.”
The pole vault Einstein
Casey’s goal is to reach 15 feet, 4 inches by the end of the season. That’s the height required to walk on as a pole vaulter at California Polytechnic State University.
And he’s doing the calculations necessary to get there by using the law of conservation of energy, meaning that energy cannot be created or destroyed but transferred from one form to the other.
“Since it’s all about converting kinetic energy to potential energy at the top of the vault, height is what I’m looking for,” Casey said. “I just have to run as fast as I can into it. And the faster I get, the more energy I have to get to the top of the bar.”
Kinetic energy, in this instance, is referring to Casey’s running. Potential energy is when he reaches his peak in the air. Casey moved his mark back to 96 feet, 6 inches from 95 feet to build up more speed for a higher vault.
If he wants to be as efficient as possible, he doesn’t want to lose any form of energy with his technique. That maximizes his energy transfer.
“I have to get in tight to the pole, hold it in close to me,” Casey said. “If I let it get out, it flings me to the side a lot more. I have to hold it in close to me, get on top of the pole, so the pole can release its energy and shoot me up instead of out.”
As a former gymnast and an aspiring materials engineer, Casey combines his two loves in pole vault. He retired his seven-year, competitive gymnastic career after knee and wrist injuries caught up to him. As a result, Casey’s conversion to pole vault came naturally.
“It’s gymnastics,” Bridgewater said. “The vault is all about physics, being tall and having some speed. Having body awareness in air is just huge.”
The other piece of Casey’s success was a new pole. He used a taller, stiffer pole to achieve his record-breaking height because it helped push him higher in the air.
“It’s like a golf club,” Bridgewater said. “We had to pick the right club for the day, and it was the right club.”
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