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Skipper ready to reach new heights.

Byline: Ron Bellamy / The Register-Guard

When we left Tommy Skipper, he was disgusted and disconsolate because he was unable to reach the pole vault finals in the Olympic Trials in Sacramento last July.

It was the only flaw in his fabulous freshman year at Oregon. And it was, he says now, for the best.

"In retrospect, what I learned in that meet is much more valuable than getting a PR," Skipper said.

"I would rather have it go the way it did and learn from that, and have it under my belt as a learning experience, than have to go through that another time in my career."

What Skipper learned, he said, is that he has to be prepared for all types of weather to withstand elements such as the crosswinds that bothered him in Sacramento, where he'll vault again in June in the NCAA outdoor championships.

And he learned that he can never look beyond the task at hand.

"Honestly, in the prelims, it was kind of a given to me that I was going to advance to the finals," he said. "That (the prelims) was something that I didn't really calculate for. I was so concerned about the final, and you have to take one step at a time. I'm thankful I got the opportunity to learn that last year."

Skipper's sophomore campaign at Oregon began last weekend, with a testing-out vault of 17 feet, 8 1/2 inches in the Dempsey Indoor Invitational in Seattle, and continues this weekend in the carnival-like atmosphere of the 15th annual Reno National Pole Vault Summit, where he's scheduled to compete in the elite division Friday night.

Skipper's UO teammates and other Eugene vaulters will also compete in the two-day indoor festival that will draw hundreds of pole vaulters, from the top post-collegiates to high school athletes, to Nevada for competition and coaching clinics in a celebration of the event.

Skipper and Oregon had much to celebrate last year. The former Oregon prep star from Sandy High School didn't enroll at Oregon until January and didn't start working with his current pole vault coach, Mark Vanderville, until March. And yet he won the Pac-10 championship, the NCAA regional championship and the NCAA Division I title, setting an Oregon and Pac-10 record by clearing 18-10 1/4.

He also won the Pac-10 decathlon title, and when the year ended he was ranked the No. 10 pole vaulter in the nation by Track & Field News, the only collegian on that list.

Imagine what he could have done with a solid fall of conditioning and technique work. Which he has now.

"There's no doubt he can jump high, but there's always the excitement that there's a lot to fix, and a lot he can improve on," Vanderville said.

Through the fall and early winter, Skipper has done more running than ever. At age 20, he has also watched more film than ever, not only reviewing his own vaults in practice and in competition, but studying the vaulter who is, more and more, becoming his role model - the great Sergey Bubka, whose vault of 20-1 3/4 in 1994 remains the world record.

"I can clearly see why he was the best," Skipper said, noting Bubka's strength, and his dedication to perfection in every aspect of the event, and to making the pole vault "a lifestyle."

Undeniably, Skipper has given himself a tough act to follow this year, but he insists his focus is on neither defending his titles nor clearing a specific height.

"I read something about Sergey Bubka the other night, and he was talking about how people get excited about the heights, and the money, and kind of all the wrong things," Skipper said. "He said he was only focused on his technique, and his condition, and that everything else will fall into place.

"I'm a very strong believer in that. I can't worry about defending my title, or winning a meet. I just have to go out there and be confident in what I've worked on."

Yet it would be a logical progression if sometime this year, and under the right circumstances, Skipper takes a shot at 19 feet, a height cleared by only six collegiate vaulters ever. For perspective, only 20 elite pole vaulters achieved that height last year. In the world.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 19, 2005
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