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A new high for Miller

The Bloomingdale pole vaulter wins his event with a personal best 16 feet.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

ORLANDO -- A personal record of 16 feet beckoned Jon Miller as he prepared for his second attempt.

Slashing down the runway like a sprinter, the Bloomingdale senior drove down on the tip of his fiberglass pole and erupted into the air, clearing the bar with both fists clinched as he plunged to the foam-padded pit.

While his competitors were pole-vaulting at the 26th Bert M. Warden Golden South Classic, Miller was catapulting. His mark of 16-0 served as a warning shot into the sky to make sure the other vaulters a half-foot below did not get any ideas about overtaking him.

Two others had better marks entering Saturday's meet, but neither was able to burst higher than Miller. The last remaining competitor, Chase Shealy of Brookland Case, S.C., dropped out once the bar reached 15-6.

Miller had the title wrapped up with two attempts left. But he wanted more. Knowing that he had enough air between his belly and the bar when he cleared 16-0, Miller kept nudging higher. He set the standard at 16-6 on his final attempt and scratched, his heel hitting the bar as he descended.

"I think I could have cleared 16-6, but I slowed down for some reason," said Miller, who was Hillsborough County's only champion at the meet. "But that's okay. I went 16 feet, which is a jump I've never made before."

Getting to this point had been a two-year crusade. During his junior season, Miller fell awkwardly into the pit and injured his back. He tried making it back for districts, but whipped himself into the asphalt on his first attempt and decided his season was over.

After taking most of the summer off, Miller forgot about his injury until the recent deaths of several pole vaulters reminded him of his own fall and the perils involved with his sport.

"I was worried when I saw the first death (Penn State's Kevin Dare)," Miller said. "I thought I'd have to have the perfect jump or else I would die. But my father sat down with me and said to not even think like that and just go and jump."

And jump he did. After winning most meets during the regular season, Miller had a record-setting postseason. He went 15-71/4 at districts, breaking the previous county record of 15-6 set by Wharton coach Dave Watson. He also won the region meet and claimed his first state title.

So when Miller stands at the edge of the runway today at an Amateur Athletic Union meet, will 17 feet beckon?

"I think I can do it," Miller said. "That's my next goal."

The girls field also shined in the pole vault. Riverview's Natalie Moser was runner-up and tied her personal best with 11-0. Gaither's Dara Altman finished third.

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