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Pole Vaulters Try to Hit New Heights at Manhattan Beach

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Move over volleyball and make room for the newest sport on the beach--pole vaulting.

While the average beachcomber expects to see several volleyball games, joggers, cyclists and roller-skaters on the beaches of Southern California, bodies flying through the air on the end of long poles might prompt a closer look.

Organizer Dave Johnston is optimistic that Sunday’s CHAMPS Beach Pole Vault event at the Manhattan Beach Pier will provoke such a reaction.

“Typically there are healthy, happy, energetic people at the beach, and those are the kind of people we want to attract to the sport,” Johnston said. “The event is suffering, and we wanted to try something to get it back on track.”

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Some of America’s finest vaulters have joined Johnston’s crusade to put pole vaulting into the spotlight.

Anthony Curran, the 1982 Pacific 10 Conference champion at UCLA and vaulting coach for the Bruins since 1984, has similar opinions about the treatment beach pole vaulting has received in past years.

“This sport has taken a back seat to other sports for a long time,” Curran said. “When you think track and field, you don’t think pole vault. We don’t get the television coverage that’s due to us.

“I always thought that it would be great to put the event where it belongs--where people can view the event up close and personal. It ties into the beach atmosphere.”

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Spectators will get a chance to judge for themselves Sunday.

“Eighteen feet above the sand looks very, very high,” Curran said. “Especially to those who are standing on the pier and still have to look up to see the vaulter.”

College division competition starts at 11 a.m., high school competition is at 12:15 p.m. and world-class competitors will take to the sand at 1:30 p.m. Spectators will also get the chance to try the vault.

According to promoter Don Franken, there were about 1,000 spectators at a similar event in Manhattan Beach in October. Weather permitting, organizers are expecting 10,000 spectators Sunday.

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Weather conditions at the beach could make or break vaulters’ attempts. The vaulters’ 150-foot runway will travel west to east, parallel with the pier.

“With the aiding wind at your back, it will generate more speed, which will enable you to jump higher,” Curran said.

Kory Tarpenning, 28, winner of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials with a vault of 19 feet, 3 3/4 inches, will headline the world-class competition. Tarpenning, whose mark is second on the U.S. all-time list behind Joe Dial’s 19-6 1/2, is the only American to jump over 19 feet in each of the last three years.

The event is not sanctioned by The Athletic Congress (governing body for track and field in the United States), so if a vaulter were to have a record vault, the mark would be a world best and not a world record. However, all marks will be sanctioned by the newly formed Beach Pole Vault Assn.

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Tim Bright, 29, the No. 2 American vaulter in 1989 and Olympic decathlete in 1988, recorded a personal-best 19 3/4 last year. Bright was a runner-up to Tarpenning at the TAC national championship last year.

Scott Huffman and Greg Duplantis should provide strong competition. Huffman’s unorthodox vaulting style enables him to clear the crossbar sideways rather than the traditional feet-first method. Huffman improved his best mark of 18-8 1/4 to 19 1/4 last month in Modesto.

Duplantis, 28, who is 5-6 and 140 pounds, cleared 19 feet in 1988.

Rounding out the field of world-class athletes invited to compete are Scott Shaefer, Dean Starkey, Dave Watson and Lane Lohr.

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In the college division, Pat Manson, Brandon Richards and Kelly Riley should finish high. Manson, of the University of Kansas, has a best of 18-8.

Richards, 23, the son of Bob Richards, the only two-time Olympic gold medalist in the vault, hit a personal-best 18-4 1/2 last week at Baylor University’s Jesse Owens Games. Richards, who competed for UCLA in 1986-87 before transferring to Baylor, is battling back from surgery for two stress fractures of vertebrae in 1988.

Texas Tech’s Brit Pursley, UCLA’s Jay Borrick and Steve Slocum, and Tennessee’s Tommy Parker are expected to compete in the college division.

Birmingham’s Howie Schrier and Torrance’s Aaron Morris will compete for top honors in the high school division. Schrier’s best of 14 feet won the Van Nuys city championship this year. Morris, who has trained for only a year, cleared 13-10 this year to place second in the Bay League.

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Justin Van Slythe and freshman Jonah Goldstein’s have cleared 13 feet. Christopher Dow, son of actor Tony Dow--who played Wally on “Leave It to Beaver"--has a personal-best 12-6.

Leuzinger High’s Mark Townsend had to drop out of the competition after spraining his wrist at an exhibition Wednesday. Townsend, who was vaulting into the surf with other pole vaulters, injured his wrist when he landed on it in 2 feet of water.

Promoters and organizers are optimistic that the sport can attract nationwide attention, much as beach volleyball has in the last decade. No prize money is offered, but that would change if organizers can add sponsors.

SportsChannel will telecast the event in July.

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