One after another, competitors trotted down a raised, single-lane track to the claps of thousands of fans Friday evening in Old Town Clovis.
Each attempt – hit or miss – was welcomed with cheers and shouts at the 22nd annual North American Pole Vaulting Championships.
It’s a Clovis tradition that is even older than some of the competitors, including 17-year-old Chris Orange, who considered the event one of the most exciting in his young career.
The hair on the back of your neck stands up and you just go for it.
Chris Orange, Sierra High pole vaulter
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Orange, who will be a senior at Sierra High in the fall, wooed the crowd in the early evening with a personal-best clearance at 15 feet, beating his previous best of 14-4.
He also flirted with history, coming just shy of the Sierra High record of 15-3, missing all three attempts at 15-4.
“I could’ve gotten 13 (feet) and been completely happy,” Orange said. “My cheeks hurt so much because I’m having so much fun. The energy from the crowd, and just everything. It’s just amazing. I’ve never felt anything like it.”
As the sun went down, the bar got higher as the elite athletes pushed the competition to new heights.
Former NCAA All-American Mike Arnold returned to Clovis and won the men’s title for the third year in a row as the only competitor to clear 18-6.
He also took a shot at the meet record of 18-10.5 set by former Olympian Kory Tarpenning. Arnold, whose personal best is 18-11, attempted 19-1, but missed all three tries.
Former 2008 U.S. Olympian April Steiner-Bennett highlighted the women’s field that also featured Clovis West graduate Anginae Monteverde.
Steiner-Bennett finished level with San Diego State’s Kortney Ross and USC’s Brysun Stately at 14-feet. All three missed their three attempts at 14-6