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Central's reality show

By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

BROOKSVILLE -- Besides his talent, which is obvious, and work ethic, which is undeniable, one other thing separates Central's Kurt Lee from most high school athletes.

He is realistic about how far his attributes will take him.

"Some athletes go out and set goals, like 'I want to go to the Olympics,' but, realistically, aren't winning all of their high school meets," coach Richard Ortiz said.

"Here's an athlete who sets goals every year, his goals are realistic, and then he works really, really hard to achieve those goals."

Lee set a goal last season of pole vaulting 13 feet, a height he reached at the Class 3A, Region 3 meet. In the process, he broke his own school record and qualified for the state meet.

So, what's left for Lee to accomplish as a senior?

Plenty.

Lee, who has cleared 13 feet, 9 inches in practice, would like to reach 15 feet. The fourth-year vaulter hopes it will be enough to win his first state title and earn him a spot on the track and field team at Florida, where he was recently accepted.

"Hopefully, if I get close to 15 feet this year, I'll be able to vault there," Lee said.

Are his goals attainable?

His coach thinks so.

"Fifteen feet is realistic," Ortiz said. "That's not pie in the sky."

Early last year, Lee broke the Central record of 12 feet first set by Chris Carrington in 1989. He subsequently broke his own record with vaults of 12-01/4 at the River Ridge Invitational, 12-1 at the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference meet and 13 at the region meet.

Though he was unable to clear 13 feet at the state meet, Lee will start his senior season at least 6 inches higher.

"Last year, his best was 13-0," Ortiz said. "He's doing that before the season starts. He's way ahead. There's no comparison."

Lee prepared for his senior season by attending camps conducted by Jefferson coach Brian Woods and dedicating himself to a weightlifting program designed by Lee's father, Mike, who holds a world record in the Masters Super Heavyweight division with a 640-pound bench press.

The workouts targeted Lee's lower back and obliques, the core muscles needed for vaulting. He also should benefit from the arrival of a new, sturdier pole.

"I'm getting too much penetration and not enough height," Lee said. "It should give me a little more return off the top of the pole."

To get to 15 feet, Ortiz said Lee will have to become more technically sound in the finer points of his event, such as the bar, the runway, the pole and his approach to the box.

He also could use a quick start.

"If he would be able to jump 14-0 the early part of the year, it would be good for his psyche that he would get himself ready to go to that next level," Ortiz said.

In addition to the pole vault, Lee competes in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs. In the fall, he qualified for the state cross country meet.

"It's unusual that you're going to have a pole vaulter who happens to be the best distance runner," Ortiz said, "but you get that because that work ethic just transferred over."

While cross country helped increase Lee's speed and stamina, he said the sport works against him in pole vaulting.

"It thins me out," said the 6-foot Lee, who finished the cross country season at 155 pounds, 10 fewer than his current weight and 15 below his target weight.

Ortiz said Lee should flourish at Florida, where he envisions him as a decathlete.

"You go to college, they have a vaulting coach there, they have a strength coach there, it's a whole different ballgame," Ortiz said. "The event becomes much more technical, and that's what he needs."

-- Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastor@sptimes.com .

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