Sunday, September 06, 2015

Crowd Pleasing Evening at Brit's Pub Vault

It was sitting room only for the second annual Brit's Pub Vault in Minneapolis as the crowd politely clapped and cheered on the elite vaulters as darkness settled over the bar's rooftop.  The fans were treated to an expected coronation in the women's elite vault and a battle for first in the men's elite vault that had an unpredicted winner.

University of Oregon grad Melissa Gergel won the women's vault at her opening height of 13'7.25"/4.15meters.  The only drama was that she needed to vault three times to do it.  North Carolina grad Scott Houston outfoxed and out vaulted his more experienced rivals to win the men's title, clearing a personal best of 18' 5.5"/5.63m on his second try.

Nursing an injured right shoulder, Houston said he was forced to give extra attention to his vault mechanics to make sure the limb could survive.  He had tested his shoulder at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday, taking five jumps to make sure his injured wing was going to withstand the stress.  On Saturday, he waited until some of the other vaulters had already cleared two heights before he took his first vault at 5.33 meters.

The next height, 5.48 meters, Houston believed would be when the real competition would begin.  Dressed in all black, Houston cleared 5.33m with room to spare and no pain in the shoulder.  He did the same at 5.48 as the men's field shrunk from nine starters to three remaining vaulters: Houston, defending Brits Pub champion Jeff Coover, and Jack Whitt, who also cleared 5.48 on their first try, but only Coover and Houston had no misses until the next height.

On his second attempt at 5.63 Houston sailed over the crossbar, putting the pressure on Coover and Whitt to match him.  Neither could and Houston took home the $1500 check awarded to the top male and female athlete in the elite category.  It was a great way to end a year that saw Houston vault nine of his best ever heights, frequently setting new PRs.  He took three shots at the Olympic qualifying standard, two of which were near misses, but it isn't the Olympics that will be his main focus for 2016.

Just as in the Brits competition, Houston knows there are plenty of vaulters in the US who have a stronger resume than he does.  "There's only three spots open," he said referring to Olympic qualifying.  With his present accomplishments, he would be a long shot at best to grab one of them, and while the winner's check is nice, it will only go so far.  With two sports-related degrees, one from North Carolina and the other from Indiana, Houston will be pursuing a career in coaching and related activities while hopefully continuing to improve his own vaulting.  The focus being on improvement, not an Olympic dream, he says.

He won't turn it down if it happens, but he's not ready to think of himself as an Olympic team contender. Others were giving him the star treatment, however.  Rochester Century's Andrianna(Andy) Jacobs, who won the women's B title at Brits, celebrated her birthday by easily winning the expected battle with Northfield standout Alexis(Lexi) Keifer, who won the B title last year.  Jacobs was flawless on her first four vaults, while Keifer went out with three misses on her opening height.

Both are being actively recruited, as Jacobs vaulted as high as Gergal in winning the US Junior Olympics 16-17 title this summer.  Jacobs was a gymnast and diver before she switched to the pole vault and prior to winning the JO title, still harbored thoughts of continuing with diving as well as vaulting in college.  She was also a bit star struck by Houston, as she had him autograph one of her training shoes.  If the three time Minnesota State champion in the vault  continues her success, others may be getting in line for her autograph.

The men's B title went to Northern Illinois' Corey Szamlewski, who won a dual with defending B men's champ Mitch Valli that was decided on fewer misses.  Szamlewski, who intends to help Coover with coaching at NIU in 2016,  cleared 15'11.75"/4.87m on his first try.  Valli needed two vaults to make that height.  Both had near misses at 5.02m, but neither could put the other away.  Valli will be vaulting for Mankato State in 2016, Szamlewski wants to "give something back" to the sport through his coaching while continuing to do some vaulting.  The pair might even find themselves locked in another battle next year at Brits.

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