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September 25, 2000
Dragila wins first ever pole vault goldThe Rediff Team
For over four years, now, Stacy Dragila has been going around her home, in Pocatello, Idaho, yelling "Sydney, Sydney..."
Her dog, you see, is named Sydney. As is her goal.
Today, she realised it -- in Sydney, facing local favourite Tatiana Grigorieva the naturalised Australian of Russian origin, Dragila held off the pressure, ignored the crowd rooting uproariously for the local favourite, and took it home with a vault of 4.60. She was a touch under her own record, but it didn't matter -- her goal was the gold, and she took it in style.
Gregorieva, the tall, statuesque blonde whose looks alone did enough to justify the hype that the women's pole vault would be the catwalk event of the Games, did a personal best of 4.55 -- a personal best -- to take home the silver.
But it was Dragila's day -- and did she ever deserve what she had planned, and worked towards, for most of her adult life?
Her dad dubbed her 'Bubka Junior' -- but naturally, given that ever since Stacy Dragila was old enough to run down the aisle with pole in hand and vault to the skies, she has spent as much time studying videotapes of the legendary Sergei Bubka as she has practising her own vaults.
For the 29-year-old, it has been a long wait since 1994, when she cleared 10 feet for the first time, and was told it was an American record. Pumped up by that achievement, she abandoned heptathlon, which was her preferred event till then, and took to vaulting full time.
Dragila in fact began her athletic career as a 400-meter hurdler, before being recruited onto the heptathlon team at Yuba College, California. It was at Idaho State University that Dragila finally figured she wasn't good enough to make the national level as a heptathlete, and try out for pole vault.
Then came the 1994 jump -- and Dragila was on her way.
For all her deeds, though, women's pole-vaulting was a curiosity, not an official sport. Sydney marks the debut for women's pole-vaulting as an Olympic sport, and Dragila could be forgiven for figuring that an earlier entry, say in Atlanta in 1996, would have enabled her to claim gold in front of her home crowd.
It was in 1997 that women's pole vaulting received global sanction, when the event was included in the World Indoor Championships in Paris. Australia's Emma George was supposed to claim the first ever women's title, but it was Dragila who upstaged her, vaulting 14 feet 8 1/4 inches -- the then indoor record.
For quite a while, though, she has been playing bridesmaid to Australia's Emma George simply because while Dragila won the titles, George held the record. It was in the 1999 World Championships in Seville that Stacy tied Emma's world record of 15'1".
In May this year, she surpassed George with a vault of 15-1 3/4 at a meet in Phoenix and, two months later, lifted the bar even higher with a vault of 15-2 1/4 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. The gold contender appeared to be peaking at just the right moment.
Besides being a star athlete in her own right, Dragila works as assistant coach with the famed Idaho State track team, specialising in heptathlon and pole vault.
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