Tigers vaulter falls short, but impresses

Sunday, May 27, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:14 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When Missouri pole vaulter Brian Hancock was in seventh grade, he played football and basketball with other teenagers. Yet it was practicing on a pole vault pit in his uncle’s barn that would eventually make the Monroe City, Mo., native the only freshman on the MU men’s track and field team to qualify and compete in this weekend’s Mideast Regional meet.

Hancock came into the Mideast Regional tied for fourth with five other vaulters with a vault of 5.15 meters. Hancock’s 5.15-meter mark, a personal best, was achieved at the Big 12 Conference Championships in Lincoln, Neb.

After three vaults Friday, his meet was over. He wasn’t able to complete his first two vault attempts, which put two fouls against him as he entered his third attempt. After a smooth approach on his third attempt, he didn’t plant his pole deep enough, resulting in him coming up too short in front of the crossbar and hitting it on the way down.

He ended with no score.

“It’s a lot different than high school. There is a big transition. I was a big fish in a little pond there. In high school I was the only one jumping high. Here, everyone is jumping high. I’m working my way up to be a big fish again,” Hancock said. “In Division I college, make sure you show up. It’s anyone’s game.”

“You take three attempts. You’re not tired. You haven’t even gotten in to the flow of the competition yet. That’s what is really frustrating,” said Dan Lefever, MU vaulting coach.

Hancock is no stranger to competition. Finding a niche led Hancock to become the only athlete in MSHSAA Class 2 track and field history to win the pole vaulting title four straight years.

“I’ve played basketball and football. I was pretty good at all of them, but never as competitive as I wanted to be,” Hancock said. “Pole vault is really the only sport I’ve found my niche in.”

According to Lefever, Hancock’s vaulting could have started a bigger trend in Monroe City than he knows.

“He’s (Hancock) such a special person — for him to be from small-town Missouri, to be one of the best vaulters in high school history, and on the verge of becoming one of the best in the university’s history,” Lefever said.

Hancock, who stands at 5-foot-3 and weighs 130 pounds, isn’t the biggest guy to come down the runway at the pole vault pit. Yet, the effort he puts into his attempts allows him to get to the same heights as his competitors.

“There were other vaulters at our first home meet that recorded him in their camera phones,” Lefever said. “He was using smaller poles then the other guys, yet jumping at the same height. He isn’t just doing what is comfortable. He is going for the max.”

The fiberglass vaulting poles that Hancock uses depend a lot on the situation and the height that he is going for. Some poles have different flexibility depending on temperature and wind conditions. Hancock has switched to a 14-foot pole that he was using earlier to 15-foot poles that can handle more flexibility.

“It’s physics. Putting more and more energy into the pole, the more you’ll get out,” Hancock said.

With Hancock’s summer off-season now started, he has the choice to take a bit of a break or start working on some of the more technical things that they want to work on during the season such as running approaches and vault plants.

“He’s the kind of guy that will be calling me to vault,” Lefever said.

Another option Hancock has for the summer is showcasing his skills at vaulting exhibitions, where makeshift vaulting pits will be laid down in many places, including the streets of Columbia, in St. Louis during the Fourth of July and the beaches of Grand Haven, Mich.

“You have people that have never seen a pole vault of that caliber, and it’s an exciting thing to watch,” Lefever said.

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