COLUMBIA — All pole vaulters look short standing alongside a 16-foot pole. Then there's Brian Hancock. He looks tiny.
Of the 17 pole vaulters at the NCAA National Indoor Championships two weeks ago, only two were less than 6 feet tall. Hancock, a senior on the MU Track and Field team, was the shortest in the field, standing 5 feet 3 inches , more than a foot shorter than Oral Roberts' Jack Whitt, who is 6-4.
"Pretty much my whole career I've been fighting the height differential, and I've had to make up with that with technique and speed," Hancock said.
The physics of pole vaulting give taller athletes an advantage.
Pole vaulters run with the pole, plant it in the ground and try to use all of their momentum to propel themselves as high as they can. Taller pole vaulters can be closer to the bar they must clear, and they don't have to move their body as much in the air once they plant.
Hancock makes up for his lack of size by trying to be more efficient with his energy. He relies on good technique and speed to jump as high as his taller competitors.
And he has been successful. Hancock holds the MU record in the indoor pole vault. He cleared 5.37 meters at a last-chance meet in 2009.
Hancock started pole vaulting in the seventh grade. He said that being relatively short was never something that bothered him.
"Basically, my entire career I've embraced it," Hancock said. "In eighth grade, I wasn't even 5-foot, and I went undefeated that year. So at that point, people recognized that I was different, but I had figured something out."
He said he stuck with it because it gave him a place to shine.
"I played football and basketball in high school, and it was really hard to separate myself from the rest of the people," Hancock said. "Pole vault really allowed me to separate myself."
At the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 11, Hancock placed 11th in the country, clearing 5.25 meters. He thinks he can do better.
"I wasn't happy with it," Hancock said. "I was happy that I was there, I was happy with how I got there, but I didn't get the finish that I wanted."
Hancock said he hopes to place in the top 4 at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June. After that, Hancock said he will set his sights on the Olympics, which he'll prepare for while attending MU for graduate school next year. The 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials will take place June 22 to July 1, 2012, in Eugene, Ore.