Vandy pole vaulter sets sights on national record

Eugenie "Ann" Wise Boulet
April 2, 2008
Getting fit for the beach; good books to take along
April 4, 2008
Eugenie "Ann" Wise Boulet
April 2, 2008
Getting fit for the beach; good books to take along
April 4, 2008

The crossbar was set at 14 feet, 2 inches, one-quarter inch above the national outdoor record.

The wind stopped blowing in Tom B. Smith Stadium. There was a lull in track events.

This was the scene last Thursday at the Tiger Relays as Vandebilt senior Rachel Laurent, the nation’s top female prep pole vaulter, had the limelight all to herself as she got three attempts to set a new high school girl’s record.

She almost had it on her first try. “It was really close, but I just hit it (the crossbar) and it rolled off,” Laurent said after failing to clear the mark.

She had to settle for winning the pole vault with a leap of 13 feet, 9 inches.

However, she left no doubt the record would soon fall.

“Definitely. I’m going to do it,” she proclaimed.

When you dominate a sport as thoroughly as Rachel does the pole vault, that is the mind-set one expects.

Ever since she and twin sister Amber impulsively tried out for pole vault in eighth grade, they have been tutored under the skillful eye of coach Kevin Trosclair.

“He’s an awesome coach,” Laurent praised. “[I] wouldn’t be here without him.”

“She has worked so hard and progressed so well, it’s amazing,” said Trosclair. “The only thing that’s going to hold her back is injuries.”

The honors she has accumulated are testimony to her superior talent – two-time Class 4A champion, three-time indoor state champion, two-time (likely three) state outdoor champion, two-time Louisiana Gatorade Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year, two-time Track and Field All American.

Last month she won two national indoor high school meets in consecutive days in different states. On March 15, she captured the New Balance NSIC in New York City with a leap of 13 feet, 3.5 inches. The next day, she prevailed in the Nike Invitational in Landover, Md., with a jump of 13 feet, 8.5 inches.

So what makes Rachel so good at the pole vault? She credits years of gymnastics training prior to pole vaulting for giving her an early advantage.

“Gymnastics teaches you a lot of body control and builds upper body strength a lot,” she explained. “I’ve been doing some weightlifting too, but it helped to have that background.”

Coach Trosclair sees Rachel’s takeoff down the runway as her greatest attribute. She has good hand extension and runs tall, meaning her torso is upright and not leaning forward.

While most athletes with Rachel’s talent would train exclusively for the pole vault, she also runs the 100-meter dash and is part of Vandebilt’s 4×100 meter relay team. In fact, she won the 100-meter dash at the Tiger Relays in a personal best 12.99 seconds.

“I believe running relays and sprints actually helps her in the vault because that’s more training,” Trosclair said. “I think in high school, they (vaulters) need that versatility, and they need to be part of the team.”

Rachel added, “I don’t really practice the sprints; I just do it in the meets. As long as it doesn’t interfere with pole vaulting, he’s fine with it.”

Despite all her success, neither Rachel nor coach Trosclair thinks she has come close to peak performance. Where does she rank her best so far?

“About a seven,” she replied. “There’s always something I can fix.”

Trosclair agrees but concedes her 14-foot clearance in the Nollie Arcement Relays at Central Lafourche, a personal best and second best mark all-time, was slightly better.

“It was probably an eight, eight-and-a-half,” he said. “I think she would have cleared 14-5 on that jump.”

With only one month left before the state championships in Shreveport, Trosclair plans on tweaking his star pupil’s performance to ensure the high school record falls.

“She’s still a little flat on the second half of her run,” he said. “Once we get her even taller at the takeoff, she can really move some pole. 14-6 is very reasonable and who knows maybe higher than that.”

Rachel will be attending LSU in the fall on a track and field scholarship, while Amber accepted a scholarship from UL-Lafayette. It will be first time the twins have lived substantially apart.

“It’s gonna be difficult,” Rachel confessed. “She’ll be an hour-and-a-half away. We’re probably gonna make a lot of trips back and forth.”

But before then, Rachel may have to make plans for the Summer Olympics.

Currently, she is 23rd on a 24-woman list for United States Olympic Qualifying in the women’s pole vault. If she stays on, she will be the only high school pole vaulter at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. The top three will go to Beijing.

For now, Rachel’s focus is on 14 feet, two inches. She has a month to leap from second all-time to first.

That may be the hardest bar she will ever attempt to clear. After all, the runner-up spot is not a place she often finds herself.

Rachel Laurent readies herself for a 14 foot, 2 inch pole vault. * Photo by KEYON JEFF