Ingredients needed to be a successful pole vaulter: speed, upper body strength, patience, proper technique . . .
"And you have to be a little bit crazy at first," said Francis Scott Key coach Rich Salkin.
Meet Key senior Tony Cahoon, defending Class 1A state champ. Minding his own business running a couple of relays as a freshman four years ago, Cahoon was coaxed into giving the pole vault a try by his pal, Josh Crone, one day in practice.
"He called me over joking around and just said 'Try this, it's a lot more fun than running.' I was all scared at first and tried it once and didn't do very well, but I stuck with it," Cahoon said.
Crone, a 1994 Key grad, won two straight state titles, something Cahoon is looking to accomplish this season. It wouldn't be possible without Cahoon's perseverance.
"You joke around about it being a little crazy, but it's kind of true," Salkin said. "Kids look at it and thinks it's kind of cool flying around 13 feet in the air, but there's a whole lot of things you have do right all at once to make it work. It's a difficult thing and obviously something you can't give up on. That's one thing about Tony, he was up for the big challenge."
Cahoon said Crone and Ryan Dunn, a state runner-up to Crone in 1993, were big influences, and the early going wasn't easy. However, he steadily improved.
"My first year, the opening height was 7 feet and I was all excited I cleared that. It was like the biggest thing," Cahoon said.
He eventually cleared 9-6 that freshman year and qualified for states. By the end of his sophomore year, he had the event down to a science -- exactly what's required to be successful.
"You have to have the knowledge," Salkin said. "You need speed and the upper body strength and Tony has both, but it all comes back to knowledge. Counting the steps, planting at just the right time and so on. It's something he knows more than the coaches because he's lived it the last four years of track season."
Cahoon said there were two major things he started doing that helped him turn the corner -- maintaining full speed down the runway and effectively learning how to bend the pole.
"You can't slow down at the end of your run and that's one thing a lot of people do," he said. "You also have to bend the pole correctly. That way the pole is doing all the work to get you over. If you're not bending the pole, your own strength and ability is doing all the work and you can only reach certain heights."
Running full speed, planting just perfect, pole bent, elbows locked "and then you're looking upside down," Cahoon said. "You're just gliding in the air and it feels like you're just up there a second -- it's a neat feeling."
Going into last year's state championship, Cahoon realized he needed to use a heavier pole. North Carroll High came to the rescue.
"I was over-bending all our poles and knew I needed a heavier pole to get me up there," Cahoon said. "North Carroll let me borrow a pole three days before the state meet and I had just one day to break it in. I brought that pole and the old one I was using before just in case. Coach Salkin told me to give the new one a try."
His 11-6 at states wasn't his best -- he did 12-6 last season -- but better than everyone else that day to earn him a state title. "That was one of the biggest things I've ever done and something I thought about," Cahoon said.
A tradition is being formed at Key with its pole vaulters. Cahoon has some more work to do this year, looking to win another state crown. He's also helping out his younger brother, Steve, a freshman. It wasn't that long ago when Tony was watching Crone and Dunn fly with such ease. Now, it's Steve turn to watch Tony and learn.
"Every year, I just kept improving," Tony said. "That's what I keep telling my brother, you have to keep going. Pole vaulter? state champ? That's what I used to say."
Pub Date: 4/12/96