JET LAG MAY HAVE BEEN the toughest bar Princeton’s Sondre Guttormsen had to conquer on his double podium-topping week. First, he flew to İstanbul, Turkey, to represent Norway at the European Indoors. There he made it through 19-¼ (5.80) with no misses, which was what he needed to secure the gold medal by a squeaker over the three others who cleared that height. That was Sunday. Then he flew back to New Jersey, caught his breath, did his laundry, and flew to Albuquerque. On Friday night he ascended to the top of another podium after scaling an NCAA record-tying 19-8¼ (6.00).
Perhaps flying nearly 12,000 miles across 11 time zones is not the best way to prepare to become member No. 27 of the elite 6-meter club, but a guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do.
“It was definitely a challenge,” the 23-year-old says, “but I think I was able to handle it really, really well and prepare for it well. I was in such a good place in terms of my training and my mental state. So I think it worked out well and I had the people around me to really make everything run as smoothly as possible.”
Obviously, winning the first-ever vault gold for Norway in the European Indoors carries more weight with the fans back home, while the Princeton crowd is understandably more wowed by the NCAA win, Guttormsen’s third overall. But which was more important to him personally?
“That’s a tough question,” he responds with a laugh. “I think the 6-meters means more, just because it shows the hard work that’s been done and my improvement as an athlete and pole vaulter. Managing 6-meters not a lot of people have done, not to take anything away from my European Championships.”
He laughs again, before rephrasing it all: “I think winning Europeans is definitely a better achievement than winning NCAAs. But the way I won NCAAs, I think I’m more proud of.”
That 6.00 height, which tied the collegiate mark set by Baylor’s KC Lightfoot in ’21, is something that has been on Guttormsen’s mind for a very long time: “Ever since I knew what 6-meters was and ever since I knew what pole vaulting was.
“You can’t really imagine what it feels like. Coming down, landing after realizing that the bar stayed up and I just made 6-meters, I think it’s pretty clear from the video and my reaction that it meant a whole lot and that it did live up to my expectations of the emotions and feelings of a 6-meter jump, what that would be like.”
Yet he readily admits his technique could have been better: “It wasn’t like a perfect jump, but it was a good jump. I think I hit it a little bit with my leg and my stomach. There definitely were some technical things over the bar there that could have made me avoid touching it at all and given me a much cleaner clearance. Yeah, I did touch the bar a bit, but I think I have a lot left.”
The winning mark was his second national record of the day. He had earlier cleared 19-4¾ (5.91). While sometimes it’s tough to hit two PRs in a row, simply because the excitement of the first can make it hard to focus, Guttormsen explains that was not an issue in Albuquerque: “I think because of the intensity of the moment and the intensity of the competition, knowing that the competition wasn’t even done. I hadn’t even won it yet. Yes, I was leading, but there was another competitor [Zach Bradford] that might still beat me.
“That kind of made me not think, ‘5.91 is a PR.’ Actually it was more like, ‘This is the height that I need to jump to beat the other guy.’ I wasn’t even celebrating at 5.91 because he wasn’t done. I thought it was enough to win, but I was trying to stay calm to be prepared for potentially making another bar.”
He admits he had 6.00 on his mind from the start of the competition, and so also regarded the 5.91 as “a stepping stone.”
In any case, Guttormsen’s Albuquerque clearance is in the end the reflection of a training season that has gone quite well. The difference this year, he says, is moderation. “Mostly I’ve been trying to be smarter with managing my training load. I’m not doing too much and getting hurt. Sometimes when I was a bit younger, I kept getting hurt a lot because I’ve always been ‘go-go-go,’ doing more work and more jumps, more whatever just to improve. And it resulted in a few injuries that kept me out of the sport for a while.
“So I think this year, jumping less has allowed me to jump more, if that makes sense. It’s allowed me to train the whole year without any injury interruptions. That’s resulted in me being consistent and having small improvements here and there. That’s added up to a 6-meter jump.”
Guttormsen reveals that often his most important coach is actually his younger brother Simen, who was 4th in last year’s NCAAs indoors and out for the Tigers. “Not taking anything away from any of the Princeton coaches — they have always been a great support during my time here. But the majority of the time, it’s Simen and I coaching each other. He knows me so well from all of our years training together when dad was coaching us back in Norway. He was always there. It’s been more and more him at practice, and then we get help whenever we need anything.”
The brothers started young, 8 or 9 or 10 according to Guttormsen, under the tutelage of their father, who himself had been more of a hurdler than a vaulter. The father’s work as an economics professor brought them to California frequently, where Sondre (but not Simen) was born. He still sits at No. 2 on the all-time prep list, with the 18-10¼ (5.75) he cleared at the European Championships in the season he competed for Davis High in Northern California. Not surprisingly, he was the State champion that year with a meet record 17-10 (5.43).
Afterwards, he signed with UCLA, but had an injury-troubled year there: “I loved the academics and the school, but athletically I guess it wasn’t the best fit for me.” His brother, who had graduated high school early, was already at Princeton, and convinced him that he would fit in well at the Ivy League school.
This spring, he will graduate with his degree in psychology, and head to Texas for grad school and to finish out his NCAA eligibility. Of course, after his heroics indoors, he could also go pro, but he laughs when asked about it.
“Americans always have such a big pro vs. college thing. I think I am pro. Sure, I don’t have a brand deal right now, but I am just as much pro as anybody else, really. I compete in Europe all summer and I go to European Championships, World Championships, Olympics and everything. Of course, 6-meters definitely changes things, but I’ve signed with Texas and I’m still planning on finishing out my eligibility there and my brother has two more years there actually. We’ll see what the NIL stuff allows us to do. It will be a conversation this spring and into the summer too, whatever happens. But most likely, we’re going to be at the University of Texas.”
Before Guttormsen gets to Austin, there’s the coming outdoor season at Princeton: “I’m going to try to start a little later,” he says, “to make sure I can last the whole summer. I definitely have my goals [focused] on the NCAA win outdoors. I also think it’d be great jumping 19-8½ (6.01) to both PR and break Mondo’s Collegiate Record. That would be a great finish to my Princeton career.
“For the summer, my goal is to get a medal at the World Championships in Budapest. That would be amazing.”