The dawn of an Olympic year—though now it’s a pre-Games season in hiatus of unknown duration—presented itself as a time for vaulters to up their game. Jacob Wooten hit the high notes early. At the annual mid-January Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nevada, the ’19 Texas A&M grad soared into the 19-foot club to win at 19-¼ (5.80). His 2¾-inch (10cm) PR turned back a who’s-who U.S. field including in its top 5 Matt Ludwig, Chris Nilsen, Cole Walsh and Andrew Irwin.
While Wooten felt ready to vault high this year, doing it so early was a pleasant near-surprise. “I was having a lot of good jump sessions prior to that,” he says. “I didn’t exactly expect it to come so soon, though. I was really taking indoors slow and I started from a really short 6-lefts approach, and the Pole Vault Summit was actually the first time I moved it back a left to 7. So I was expecting things to be a little more out of whack, so to speak, at that point. But I guess it lined up pretty well.”
Outdoors just over a month later, Wooten, 22, proved rated for higher altitude when in Mexico City he cleared 19-4¼ (5.90) for another win (again on misses) over USATF Indoor champ Ludwig. Wooten’s fellow Aggie alum Audie Wyatt placed 3rd, his PR 19-1 (5.82) making him the 11th American above 19 this year.
Wooten, a native Texan who continues to train at A&M when the school is not locked down by a virus, says, “After U.S. Indoors I decided it was time to move it back to that 8-lefts approach. So I tested that out in Mexico City and I’d say it works pretty well.”
Wooten’s Nationals placings had been a tale of steady progress under Aggie assistant Sean Brady the past two seasons. He placed =5th at the NCAA Outdoor in ’17, 4th in ’18 and 3rd at the NCAA Indoor last year. In that time he raised his best 10½ inches (27cm) to 18-9½ (5.73). As such, he says, “I just thought it was pretty important to try and keep the same environment that had been working for me.” With “an Olympic training waiver that allows me to continue training with the team,” Wooten has been able to retain Brady as his coach.
Ask Wooten, who stands 6-0 (1.83), what his strong suit as a vaulter is and he is ready with an answer. “I think one of my best aspects is that I can run pretty fast. That,” he says with a laugh, “is pretty key. And I think my other strength would be flying, just being able to have a good feeling for the pole. I feel I can make a lot of jumps work when something’s a little bit off. So I can self-adjust pretty well.”
Flying the highest he has to date in Mexico City, “I just felt like I had a lot more energy in the vault and a better ability to send more of my energy up,” he says. “Just posturally I was better at takeoff so—I don’t know how to explain this—I could send a lot more of the energy in my vault up instead of being low and out of position at takeoff, if that makes any sense.”
Wooten intends to carry the feeling with him for when competition resumes. Though A&M’s facilities are not available during the C19 shutdown, he has been able to put in practices at College Station’s MAC Vault Academy run by coach and Masters vaulter Brad McFarling. For when social-distancing requirements eventually ease, Wooten says, “I’ve been thinking of trying to do a practice meet situation with Drew Volz and Reese Watson. They’re both in the area so we could be some good competition for each other at least.
“Reese Watson is one of the guys who recently just cleared the Trials standard of 5.75 [18-10¼]. Then Drew Volz also jumped a PR at that meet of 5.65 [18-6½] so there’s some good competition here in College Station. If we could just get together we could put a competition-style jump session while things are being figured out.”
Wooten knows how he will approach the Olympic Trials, now delayed a year. “The mental approach going into any meet,” he says, “is just to try and vault as best I can on that day, try not to dwell on things you can’t really control or any of that. As Coach Henry [A&M’s director] has said numerous times, it’s about who does what on the day.”