World U20 silver medallist Kurtis Marschall calls himself a student of the pole vault. After bashing the books all season he's ready for an extra special bonus lesson in Brazil.
You can trace Kurtis Marschall’s connection to the generation of Australian pole vaulters that preceded him simply by asking about the @ThePoleOfficial Twitter fan account that is dedicated to him.
“That’s been carried down from generation to generation!” he laughs. “It started with Paul Burgess, went to Steve Hooker, then to Joel Polkington, now it’s on me. I’ve inherited the account!”
The links to those former pros do not stop there. Marschall, by winning silver at the Bydgoszcz World U20 Championships last month, became the first Australian male to win a junior pole vault medal since Paul Burgess took bronze in 1998 (he had claimed gold two years earlier).
Burgess’ training partner as a senior was Steve Hooker. Watching Hooker win Olympic gold at Beijing 2008 inspired Marschall – 11 at the time – to focus full-time on pole vault. Marschall gave up playing Aussie Rules football in order to train in athletics year-round. He simply wanted to emulate Hooker, the man he had a poster of stuck up on his bedroom wall.
“I was never amazing at pole vault, but I worked hard,” the Adelaide native tells SPIKES. “I’m definitely a student of the event. I like to think that one day I’ll get my PhD in pole vaulting. You have to be an expert to jump high, and that’s my goal.”
Marschall met Hooker, who retired after London 2012, for the first time three years ago. Rather than gawp at his idol he sought out his advice. “He has just given me all these great cues over the years on how to improve my vault,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “A really nice bloke.”
Marschall won style points as well as the silver medal with his 5.55m performance in Bydgoszcz
The improvements have been marked since the 2014 Eugene World Juniors, where Marschall exited the pole vault comp in the qualifiers with a best of 5.00m. In Bydgoszcz he won silver with a best of 5.55m, a mark that would have won gold in 12 of the 16 editions of the champs in its 30-year history.
“It was insane,” Marschall says of winning silver behing Deakin Volz, who won gold with a 5.65m PB, the joint-second best clearance in the history of the championships. “I’m very happy. He was just the better man on the day.”
Marschall’s commitment to honing his craft is made plain by how he reflects on the contest. He says he took “notice throughout” of “all the little things” that can go askew in a major championship final. For instance: “On your last attempt you need to move your run up back a bit. Because you’re running harder, you need to adjust accordingly.”
What else? “Take note of your first jump after warm-up, what it feels like, so you can adjust and make corrections for next comp and be as consistent as possible.”
These are things that Marschall, a Human Movement student at the University of South Australia, has one more chance to implement this year.
The world U20s were originally scheduled to be his last out ting of 2016. That changed at the Bauhaus Junioren Gala in Mannheim in June, where he cleared an area U20 record 5.70m to go joint-eighth on the all-time U20 lists.
It was the best vault by a teenager since reigning senior world champ Shawn Barber cleared 5.71m in 2013. It was also above the Olympic qualifying standard; having won the national champs eight weeks earlier it secured him a spot for Rio. Marschall admits that his “pretty successful season” has been a bit of a blur.
“Because I’ve been away from home for so long it’s all been a mad rush, a mad craze that I’ve jumped so high,” says Marschall, who had never been to Europe before this year. “I think when I get back home I’ll sit down, debrief it all and soak it up.”
There’s no time for that now, though, as he heads to Rio as Australia’s sole representative in the men’s pole vault. In fact, he is the first Aussie male to compete in the event at a major championships since Hooker retired after London 2012.
A scan of the history books reveals that in 2008, in the month before winning Olympic gold, Hooker placed second at a comp in Bydgoszcz. Though Marschall isn’t swallowing that dose of SPIKES superstition, he admits “he’s been dreaming about competing at the Olympics” since he was seven-years-old. Naturally he is itching to put in a big performance.
“I’m glad I get an extra comp,” he says. “I feel as though I haven’t performed 100% to my best. Yet.”
If he can match his 5.70m PB then a place in the final could beckon. But after a whirlwind year, the committed vaulter is simply keen to continue learning as much as possible to help him progress into the senior ranks.
“Hopefully I get another hit out of the qualifying round, get an opportunity to jump high in Rio,” he adds. “I’m just looking forward to the experience and hopefully can take away a lot from that.”