Cabrillo senior pole vaulter Steven French practices this week as he prepares for the state track meet. French set a school record of 16 feet, 10 inches this year and has qualified for the CIF State Track and Field Championships, which begin today in Clovis.

  • Daniel Dreifuss, Staff

Pole vaulting is hard.

In fact, "A USA Today article said pole vaulting is the third-most difficult thing to do in all of sports," said Russ French, Cabrillo High School's pole vaulting coach, and head track and field coach.

"Hitting a major league fastball is the hardest. It involves a round ball and a round bat and an extremely quick reaction time to try to hit a ball at very high speed.

"Racing a car in the Indy 500 is the second hardest. I read that drivers have lost 20 pounds in that race. Then there is the pole vault."

Russ French's son, Cabrillo senior Steven French, has shown a knack for the difficult art of pole vaulting.

He has cleared a school-record 16 feet, 10 inches this season. That mark is the best prep mark in California, and the third-best nationally, this year.

French will compete in the CIF State Track and Field Championships for the first time. The state meet will take place today and Saturday at Clovis Buchanan High School.

Live scoring for the state meet is available on the CIF State website. 

The top 12 vaulters in the preliminaries today will advance to the Saturday finals. Five vaulters have a qualifying mark of 15-6 or better. Steven French is one of seven who have a qualifying mark of 15-3. The boys pole vault is slated for a 4:30 p.m. start today.

French jumped 15-3 at the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet at Cerritos College in Norwalk last Friday to advance to the state meet. French finished third at the Masters.

Steven French won the Division 3 championship at the CIF Southern Section Divisional Finals May 23 with a vault of 15-6 at Cerritos. 

To approach, or better, that 16-10 he hit at the Los Padres League Finals May 7 at Santa Ynez High School, "I've got to have good speed on the runway," at the state meet, said Steven French.

"I'm very excited for the state meet. I learned a couple of things during my visit to (Brigham Young University) that have helped a lot — a lot. A lot of what I learned has to do with quickening my step right before the plant."

Steven French recently signed a national letter of intent with BYU. The financial package French will get to go there "covers my full tuition for the first two years," he said.

"After that, the amount (of the package) can either go up or down."

Speed isn't everything in pole vaulting, but it counts for a lot. "Eighty percent of pole vaulting's the speed down the runway," said Russ French, who graduated from Cabrillo in 1982.

Steven French has credentials in the speed department. He was a wide receiver for the Cabrillo football team. 

He said, "It's important to have everything right technically early (in the pole vault). If you have everything right early, things will probably go well all the way through.

"If you don't have things technically right early, it can be pretty hard to recover."

At the Los Padres League Finals, Steven French kept breaking his own then-school record of 16-0.

He cleared 16-1, 16-5 and, finally, 16-10.

"I'm at my best when there are a lot of people and they're clapping, and that's what happened at the LPL Finals," said Steven.

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"It really got me fired up, helped me to keep my speed up on the runway. There will be a lot of people at the state meet, there will be a lot of clapping, and that's part of the reason I'm so excited for the state meet."

French wasn't the only Cabrillo pole vaulter who had a big year. Teammate Niko Amescua cleared a personal best 14-6 and made it to the divisional finals.

Russ French's son said he first got interested in pole vaulting "my freshman year in high school because my dad was coaching."

He cleared 11-7 his freshman year, 14-0 his sophomore year, 15-1 his junior year and, finally, 16-10 his senior year.

"We learned a lot after that first season," said Steven French. "A lot." French cleared 16-5 at a recent practice. 

Poles used in the pole vault are made of fiberglass. "Very expensive fiberglass," Steven French said with a chuckle.

""I have a lot of poles, but there are usually four or five I take to a meet. Ideally, I'll use longer and heavier polls as I'm jumping at higher heights. The bigger the pole, the more power you get. For the highest heights, I like to try to use a 16-1 pole."

Besides being fast on the runway and quick on the plant, "I need to have good posture," said Steven French.

"When you're standing straight up, standing tall, going into the vault, the energy goes into your pole. If you're leaning forward or leaning back right before the plant, it makes you like a noodle. The energy goes into you instead of your pole."

Russ French said, "A lot of young vaulters try to thrust their bodies up. I tell my vaulters not to do that. When they do that, it transfers some of the energy away from where it needs to be."

When French cleared that 16-10 at the league finals, he was standing straight and tall. He hopes to do the same at the state meet and surpass the great heights he has soared to already.

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