TERRE HAUTE —
Lots of people fear being upside-down. Such fright makes rollercoasters popular.
Kylie Hutson has never suffered that phobia.
“She’s always had a little bit of a daredevil in her,” said her dad, Kevin Hutson. “Anytime she had an opportunity to get upside-down, she’d do it.”
In fact, some of Kylie’s finest moments have come while inverted.
As a kid growing up in Terre Haute, it happened while climbing trees with her brother, Max. In a more formal capacity, Kylie frequently flipped as a competitive youth gymnast and tumbler, as well as in dance recitals.
And then there was last Sunday.
Toting a 12-foot pole made of a composite of carbon fiber and fiberglass, Kylie sprinted down a runway in a stadium at the University of Oregon, wedged the pole into a small, V-shaped “plant box,” bent the pole, and flung her slender, 5-foot, 5-inch body upward — feet first — toward a crossbar at an elevation nearly three times her height. She twisted over like a corkscrew at the peak, let go of the pole and smoothly cleared the bar, falling triumphantly into a cushy pad below.
Kylie soared 15 feet, 3 inches. That upside-down moment proved to be the winning women’s pole vault at the 2011 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. It gave her the title of “national champion.” No asterisk is necessary. No sub-category to account for age level or experience applies. Kylie Hutson is America’s top female pole vaulter, period. And, while such honors can be fleeting in sports, she’s enjoying it.
She’s 23 years old, a professional athlete and the best in the United States.
“Even though this is my job, I’m having fun,” Kylie said Tuesday.
She spoke by cellphone, still hundreds of miles from her hometown. Though Terre Haute is never far from her thoughts, Kylie’s travel schedule just got a whole lot busier after Sunday’s performance in Oregon. She already began living and training at Phoenix in January, after graduating from Indiana State University, where Kylie won four straight NCAA pole vault titles. She’s got a contract with Nike, and the maker of her poles, Gill Athletics of Champaign, Ill. Thanks to last weekend’s effort, she’ll journey in August to Daegu, South Korea, as a member of Team USA for the 2011 World Championships. In between, she’ll globetrot a bit more, participating in Samsung Diamond League meets for pro track athletes in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
There’s a pretty big event next year in England, too. The 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Yes, a berth in the Olympic games is a real possibility. At Eugene, Kylie out-vaulted American pole vault icon Jenn Suhr by 2 inches. While Suhr, who placed second, had been injured and was competing outdoors for the first time this year, Kylie’s win was significant. Suhr, 29, was the five-time defending national champ, the reigning silver medalist from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the U.S. record holder.
“I realized, I can compete with this girl. She’s not out of my league,” Kylie said of Suhr.
Kylie and Suhr will meet again. To make the U.S. Olympic team and earn a spot in the 2012 games, Kylie must place among the top three pole vaulters at next June’s Olympic Trials at, again, Eugene. “I have no doubt that, if she’s on that day [in the Olympic Trials], she’ll be there [in the London Summer Olympics],” said her mom, Susan Hutson.
If so, folks in Terre Haute will face a crash-course in pronouncing exotic names such as legendary pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva (of Russia) and top-ranked Fabiana Murer (of Brazil) as Kylie takes on the world. Isinbayeva won the last two Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008, and the past five World Championship titles. She has her own website and graces ads for Toshiba and Lady Speed Stick. Any Olympic newcomer hoping for a medal in London must, first, plan on contending with Isinbayeva.
“She’s always the one to beat,” Kylie said. “But she never gets beat.”
Then again, there’s a first time for everything. Kylie became the first female to win Vigo County’s prestigious McMillan Award twice while at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, where she learned to pole vault under Coach Mike Dason. Her dominance at ISU was groundbreaking, too. And, as a pro last weekend at Oregon, Kylie ended Suhr’s string of five straight national titles, and Suhr is one of only a handful of female pole vaulters ever to clear 16 feet. Isinbayeva is also on that lofty list.
That elite plateau is reachable, Kylie thinks. “Someday, yes, I do believe I can,” she said. “It might take a little while, but in the pole vaulting world, the more experience you have the better you get.”
Then, borrowing an old but apt cliché, she said, “I guess the sky is the limit.”
And Kylie will feel right at home as she shoots for it, upside-down.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.