You’re running 100 feet and now your body is hurtling through the air and you then have to twist it over this bar so now you’re completely upside down plummeting toward the ground. Doesn’t that sound like fun? That’s what a pole vaulter does and to senior Nico Cipollini it’s what he loves to do.
To most though, it’s not fun and it’s a lot of work. Some might even call the event a little on the nuts side.
“Pole vaulters are the crazy ones on the track team,” Trojans Athletic Director Ed Kirkwood said. “You have to want to have your body upside 12-to-15 feet in the air. These guys want to be up in the air and they are fearless. But they are also really good athletes and have good body awareness.”
Cipollini has been vaulting for the past four years for the Trojans. He is certainly not the best vaulter the Trojans have had by his own admission, but he has been one of the most dedicated to his craft. Over the years at Pahrump he has shown others what hard work can yield and now finds himself in a good position to challenge for state this year.
When he first started though he really didn’t know what he was getting into.
“At first I just did it because they needed an extra guy vaulting,” he said. “And then I really got into it. So much so that I vaulted 10 feet, 6 inches as a freshman and this was impressive for a freshman.”
For many, being upside down 12-to-15 feet in the air might be a little dangerous, but Cipollini considers the sport safe.
“You get more hurt from doing the hurdles,” he said. “I have never seen anyone get hurt from doing this event and of course I have never been hurt doing it. It just looks scary, and it’s possible to miss the pit, but it’s completely safe.”
For those that have never seen a pole vaulter vault, the process is simple. The vaulter takes a pole and starts running. He has to hit a square where the pole goes into. This square is called the “box”.
“It’s hard to miss the box for it’s about a foot wide and 2.5 feet long,” Cipollini said. “Like jumpers who do long and triple and the high jump, we have to count our steps too. The counting tells us when to throw our arms up to give us the power we need to vault. What makes a good vaulter is speed and technique. Strength does not affect the vault.”
For Cipollini, even though he has been vaulting for four years he is always working to be better.
“Nico is kind of a ‘student of the game’ type kid,” Kirkwood said. “He will talk to as many people as possible to pick up a drill or a little adjustment to improve his vaulting. He has jumped with a club in Vegas to be around other vaulters and learn as much as possible. Also, to be coached by different people. He believes everyone has something that he can use and apply to his event. He is a sponge when it comes to track.”
A sponge he is. Cipollini seeks out coaches at a track meet like a bloodhound.
“I will try to get to know other coaches in Nevada and to get to know others so they can help me,” he said. “That’s what is great aboutbeing a vaulter. The community is tight. We even exchange poles if the school doesn’t have the height I need, I know I can borrow one from another team. There is a lot of camaraderie in our event and most pole vaulters only do one event.”
Cipollini says the hardest part of the event is being consistent.
“The most important part about making the height is being consistent with technique,” the vaulter said.
Filming helps in this process.
“I film myself and I then break the jump into bits,” he said.
For the past two years, Cipollini has been the best vaulter for Pahrump. This year he wants to go to state.
“There are probably only one or two guys I have to beat this year,” the vaulter said. “The rest have moved on.”
Last year at state Cipollini finished in sixth place with a 11-foot, 6-nch vault. He knows he can do 12-13 and maybe a 14. Last year’s state champion vaulted a 16-footer, which is rare.
“In high school, it’s rare to see a vaulter go over 15,” Kirkwood said. “I have been coaching track for over 35 years and have seen it maybe twice.”
So the Trojans vaulter is in a good position to vault himself to state. He has been working hard to get there. For most of his career he has not only practiced with the high school, but with a club vaulting team in Henderson. He did that for the coaching, for Pahrump at the moment doesn’t have a vaulting coach.
“We had one my first two years, but he moved on,” he said.
This is the Trojans vaulter’s last year and he wants to make it count.
“It’s bittersweet, for it might be my time and it’s my last year competing.” he said. “But, it’s all good.”
Cipollini would like to vault in college but unless a college offers him a great deal he will probably be staying in Pahrump.
“I did an internship with Valley Electric and really liked working with them,” Cipollini said. “I would love to go to college and stay in Pahrump and work. I have been accepted to a college in North Dakota and can get my degree online in energy management. I really like it out here. I like the small town rural environment.”
Then there is the possibility of coaching.
“Nico is a gentlemen and a great student,” Kirkwood said. “He is a leader with our team. He has tried several events over the years and just wants to help the team succeed. He is the sort of young man I can see coaching somewhere in the future. He is great with the younger kids, and he is trying to leave the vaulting reins to someone.”
Cipollini is like a coach now.
“I am trying to practice, but also I coach the younger kids and help them out,” he said. “Our event is different than other events like sprinting. Our event needs a coach to excel. Honestly I would love to coach.”
Contact sports editor Vern Hee at email@example.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes