Leaps and bounds above all the others
A textbook performance, and a storybook ending. Clearing heights of 5.35, 5.50 and 5.60 meters all on his first attempt, junior Jason Colwick, Rice's pole vaulter extraordinaire, earned himself the title of national champion last Friday at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, held at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, Texas. Colwick came into the championship as the top-ranked collegiate pole vaulter in the nation and did nothing to make anyone at the meet think otherwise. Colwick's championship was Rice's first individual track and field championship since Allison Beckford (Lovett '03) won the 400 meter run indoor title in 2002. Colwick's performance also continued to add to the accolades that Rice pole vaulters have accrued over the years, as five Owls have won championships in the pole vault, including Dave Roberts (Will Rice '73) and Fred Hansen (Hanszen '63).
Colwick's preparation for, and success at, the national championship came from the right mixture of talent and calm.
"I just wanted to keep [my vaults] simple and try not to get nervous," Colwick said. "The national championship was a big goal of mine."
Colwick's magical season began unassumingly with his 5.20-meter vault at the Leonard Hilton Invitational in the middle of Janury. But at the Houston Invitational just two weeks later, Colwick began his mercurial rise to becoming the clear favorite to win the indoor championship. His jump of 5.40 meters was good enough for first place at the Invitational as well as for a new Rice indoor pole vault record, shattering Paul Bratloff's old mark of 5.26 meters, set in 1983. For his performance, Colwick was named Conference USA Male Athlete of the Week.
The following chapter in his season was the one that turned some heads. The very next week at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational in Lincoln, Neb., Colwick vaulted an astonishing 5.60 meters, blowing away some of the nation's best competition. This mark not only broke the record he set the previous week but also broke his school record for the outdoor pole vault. Colwick's best mark was now the top collegiate mark in the nation, third overall in the nation and 17th best in the world.
"We knew something big was going to happen about a month ago, when I jumped at Nebraska," Colwick said.
After the meet, Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) remarked on Colwick's extraordinary feat.
"He's vaulting well enough or could be vaulting well enough to talk about going to the Olympics or medaling in the Olympics," Warren said.
After being named C-USA Male Athlete of the Week for the second straight week on Feb. 10, Colwick set his sights on the Texas A&M Invitational, where he would once again be competing against some of the top collegiate pole vaulters in the nation. He rose to the challenge again, besting his indoor record set the previous week with a vault of 5.61 meters, which moved him up to 14th in the world. He was named C-USA Male Athlete of the Week for the third straight week.
Colwick had now assured himself a coveted spot in the NCAA Indoor National Championships field, but he still had the C-USA Indoor Championships to think about before the national championship. Unfortunately, he did not clear the first height of 5.33 meters that he attempted, and finished outside the top eight competitors.
However, he did not allow this performance to affect his mindset for the national championship the next week.
"I came into this meet a little shaken, but we had a few good practices leading up, and I came into the meet knowing something good was going to happen," Colwick said. "It's not a question of doubting myself; I would say there's a percentage of doing badly every meet, and bad stuff happens all the time, and [the conference meet] was just one of those days. It just wasn't one specific thing."
But whatever "bad stuff" Colwick carried at the conference meet was left at the Yeoman Fieldhouse, for when he traveled to College Station, there was little that could hold Colwick back from the top. Colwick's vaults at the national championship were perfect, as he did not scratch on any of the three heights he attempted.
After grappling with the realization of his victory, Colwick collected his thoughts about his accomplishments this season.
"About an hour after the competition, I finally found a quiet corner and had a chance to look at my phone," Colwick said. "I had 18 new text messages and seven voicemails. I'm very happy to have so many people as enthusiastic and passionate about what I do as I am."
Colwick plans to change some of his techniques in the upcoming outdoor track and field season, in hopes of bringing home another national championship in early June.
"Last year didn't go so hot [in outdoor track and field,]" he said. "There are several things I can do differently that I didn't do last year, such as not looking out for myself as well as I could have, since I rolled my ankle the week before nationals. I'm going to stay on track and try not to lose focus. I'm faster, more confident, and my technique has improved quite a bit."
After the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Colwick will be found in Eugene, Ore. at the USA Track and Field Championships, and he also plans to vault in the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Berlin, Germany, in August. He will also use the summer months to mull over his post-collegiate future in track and field.
"As for the next three or four years, I'm in the process of deciding whether I want to do this for a time after I graduate," Colwick said. "I might be going to Germany to jump a few times in the month leading up to the world championships. But at the end of the day, I've got a great scholarship to the school of my dreams, so I'm luckier than a lot of people and I try very hard not to forget that.
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