The pole vault is the extreme sport of the track and field world, University of Maine track and field head coach Mark Lech said.
“The pole vault is a unique event. It should probably reside at the X Games rather than a track and field meet,” Lech said.
In Waterville Senior High School graduate Devin Burgess, Lech has an up-and-coming pole vaulter who has just begun to realize his potential. A freshman with the Black Bears, Burgess is building on the pole vaulting skills he developed in high school, with eyes on eventually contending for the America East title.
“(Burgess has a lot of the basic essentials. Ian (Waterville track and field coach Ian Wilson) does a great job,” Lech said. “He was ahead of the game coming in.”
“There’s a high level of competition every single week,” said Burgess, who plans on majoring in mechanical engineering. “Being around that type of athlete really helps a lot.”
Burgess also competes in the long jump for the Black Bears, but Lech sees Burgess’ future as a pole vaulter.
“He’s working more on the pole vault than the long jump,” Lech said.
Burgess vaulted 14 feet, 3.25 inches at the America East indoor track and field championship meet in February, more than 8 inches higher than his vault of 13-6 to win the Class B indoor state title last year. Burgess also vaulted 13-6 at the Class B outdoor championship last June, to take second place.
At his first outdoor meet of this season, on April 5 at the University of New Hampshire, Burgess vaulted 14 feet. Lech said that Burgess is at the point of his development where, as his speed and strength improve, he’ll need to adjust to a longer pole.
“It’s a technical event, and timing is essential. Just when you think you’re all set, you need a bigger pole,” Lech said. “As you get stronger and faster, you need a bigger pole.”
Burgess added some gymnastics to his training regimen. A few times per week, his workout will include things like handstands and cartwheels. The drills are designed to help pole vaulters adjust to what happens when they use proper form to clear the bar.
“Things that are getting my body used to being upside down,” Burgess.
Lech said he hasn’t discussed a specific height goal with Burgess, although coach and athlete are thinking of similar numbers.
“I’d definitely like to get over 15 (feet),” Burgess said. “I’ve gotten it in practice, but that’s not official.”
“I think, conservatively, 15-6 is doable,” Lech said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes 15-10, close to 16.”