Lightfoot’s AR Was A Blur Yet His Focus Is Sharp

KC Lightfoot’s American Record 19-11 (6.07) raised him to No. 4 on the world all-time list. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

SOMETIMES IN LIFE’S important moments, you remember everything in hyper detail, almost watching the scene in slow-mo, high-definition video. Other times, it’s just a blur.

Such is the case with KC Lightfoot, after he cleared an American Record 19-11 (6.07) at Nashville’s ATL Music City Fest on June 02.

“You know, it’s funny,” he says. “I don’t really remember much. There was just so much adrenaline.” He digs deeper. “I remember I was feeling good. Like, I jumped 6.00 [19-8¼] and I was stoked. I got to 6.07 and I was on the last pole in my bag. I knew it was a pole I needed to make a bar that high on. And, I don’t really remember much after that.”

He laughs and admits that suddenly being at that altitude doesn’t really surprise him. “I’ve been jumping really good in training. I knew I could jump really high at some point. You just obviously need everything to come together in a competition, which is not always easy to get.

“But I didn’t think I was going to jump 6.07 on the day. I mean, that’s way up there. My original goal really was, I was trying to take the world outdoor lead, which was 5.91 (19-4¾) at the time. And then everything after that, it was just one step at a time and we got here.”

While training has gone well, the 23-year-old Baylor alum says, “The biggest thing and the difference is that right now I’m not really injured, which is nice. I’ve been injured, just kind of ongoing, the last couple of years and I haven’t really been able to train or jump anywhere near 100%. So right now, I feel pretty good. And I think the results are showing it a little more.”

In ’21, as a Bear junior, Lightfoot won his first and only NCAA title at the Indoor meet, clearing 19-5½ (5.93) in Fayetteville a month after having raised the Collegiate Record to 6.00 (19-8¼). Then, competing as a pro for Puma, he set an outdoor best of 19-2¼ (5.85) to tie for 2nd at the Olympic Trials. In Tokyo, he missed the medals by one bar and had to settle for a tie for 4th. Not a bad campaign for a 21-year-old. He ranked No. 4 in the World.

Trying to capitalize on that progress the next season turned out to be more difficult than Lightfoot imagined: “There was a different injury, it feels like, every day. The bigger ones were a fracture in my foot, a labrum tear in my left hip, a small hamstring tear on my left side. Everything was on my left side too, so that wasn’t great. The labrum tear was the biggest one.

“There was a big change coming out of college, going professional. That’s always kind of tough when you go through something like that, that major of a difference.” Lightfoot had left Waco and the coaching of Brandon Richards, and headed home to Lees Summit, Missouri, where he first made his reputation as a star prep. His 18-5 (5.61) still ranks No. 3 all-time among high schoolers.

“I moved back home and I just kind of train with my dad as my coach. And whenever I’m on the road, I have Jeff Hartwig, who’s also my agent. So I have a few different guys helping me out.”

His usual workout routine tends to be solitary: “Every once in a while, I guess I can get somebody to come out there and hang out with me. I can get my sister or my girlfriend to come hang out. Maybe they’ll do the warmup with me, but I jump alone.”

The persistent injuries left a big mark on his ’22 season. Though he cleared 19-6¼ (5.95) and placed 2nd at the USATF Indoor, outdoors he struggled. “I jumped pretty high indoor, but I had that foot fracture. By the time outdoors rolled around, I could hardly run down the runway. I don’t even really know what I jumped outdoors last year because, I mean, it wasn’t high enough to care. I really didn’t get to compete much outdoors.”

He made it to only 5 meets, clearing a best of just 18-8¾ (5.71). He tied for 5th at the USATF Champs. Since then he has been rebuilding, and it helps that he has been working with his father, himself a former Central Missouri vaulter: “We go one step at a time. In high school, I first wanted to be best in the state, then best in the country. And then you go to college and you gotta try to be best in the NCAA. And now it’s trying to be the best in the world.”

Since Nashville, Lightfoot has vaulted a few meets in Europe. In Norway, he had a 6.00 (19-8¼) loss on misses to EJ Obiena, followed by wins in Finland and Germany. He got a late invite to the Oslo Diamond League, but opted to stick to his original meet commitments.

The fraternity of vaulters is a tight one, says Lightfoot. “We’re all great friends,” he says. “I talk to Sam [Kendricks] and Chris [Nilsen] every day. And then whenever I go overseas or some other people come here from different places in Europe, it’s always a reunion. We have a great time together. We’ll all hang out, go eat dinner and stuff. We always have a good time.”

But then there’s competing, and the task of wanting to be the best in the world can be daunting when one of your buddies is the Olympic and world champion and World Record holder.

Lightfoot says, “Mondo [Duplantis] has been so dominant over the last few years. Hopefully I can be the guy that can start to put a little more pressure on him. I mean, we’re trying. I promise you that, we’re trying our hardest to get there.”

With his 19-11 (6.07) Lightfoot now stands at No. 4 in history indoors and out, and can potentially threaten Mondo on any given day: “It can happen to anybody. It may not seem like it at times, but Mondo is human and he also can have a bad day.”

Lightfoot counts it as an advantage that he’s already experienced. “I’m pretty young, but I’ve gotten to travel around the world. I’ve jumped at the biggest competitions you can. That’s huge going into championship meets. A lot of people show up to championship meets and the conditions might not be great or what they’re used to, or there’s high pressure. I feel like now at this point in my career, I’ve jumped about everything that I can. I’m not going to say I’m a veteran of the sport at 23, but I’ve got a little experience.”

Experienced or not, Lightfoot still has boxes he wants to check. He agrees, “I don’t have a medal at a Worlds or Olympic Games, so I’d like to get one of those. I’d like to get one this year. I don’t really have a height goal. I mean, 6.07 was one of my career goals, so it’s kind of weird that it came so early I wasn’t quite ready for it.

“To be honest, I still don’t know if it’s really hit me yet. There was so much going on at the time, and there’s so much adrenaline, and everything gets cloudy. It’s like, dang, there’s really only been two people who have ever jumped higher than me in the pole vault outdoors.”

“It’s just so motivating to wake up in the morning knowing I have practice today or this meet is somewhere where I’m going to compete against some of the best women in the country. It’s a blessing.”


(June 02)

PV: 1. KC Lightfoot (US) 19-11 (6.07) AR (old AR 6.06/19-10½ Sam Kendricks [Nike] ’19) (out WL) (4, x W)

(18-½, 18-8¼, 19-¼, 19-5 [2] [out AL; =AL], 19-8¼ [AL], 19-11 [2]) (5.50, 5.70, 5.80, 5.92 [2], 6.00, 6.07 [2]);

2. Cole Walsh (US) 18-8¼ (5.70); 3. Tray Oates (US) 18-4½ (5.60); 4. Scott Houston (US) 18-½ (5.50).

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