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Feature Stories
1/18/2024 by Enrique Tomas

Reaching New Heights at Atlanta Track Club

On Saturday, Pole Vault Atlanta will host the ninth Georgia Indoor Pole Vault State Championships at Atlanta Track Club. It's the largest and oldest pole vault-only meet in the Southeast, hosting youth, open and masters competitions. Competitors will be coming from throughout the region, with a few international athletes also expected to arrive on Armour Drive looking to get some season-opening marks on the books.

If they're seeking inspiration, they won't have far to look - a world record was almost set here a few years ago by a woman who would go on to become an Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Champion.

On June 11, 2021, massive thunderstorms moved in just as a twilight competition was about to get underway at Marietta High School for post-collegians, including several professional athletes and those seeking qualifying marks for the U.S. Olympic Trials later that month. The anxious meet director called Rich Kenah, CEO of the Club, asking if they could please move the event indoors.

"We can be there in half an hour," Kenah recalls him saying.

After a rush to get everything set up, the competition - and a magical night - got underway.

"You know how the best parties are the ones that come together at the last minute and are spontaneous?" said Kenah. "It was like that. As people were jumping higher and higher, it just got to be more and more fun."

Katie Nageotte competing in Atlanta Track Club's facility.

As the night went on, vaulter Katie Nageotte (now Moon), set a personal best of 4.94m/16-2.5 feet, which at the time put her #6 all-time on the world list. She moved the bar just over 5.03m, Jenn Suhr's world indoor record. On one attempt, she was so close that a spectator actually shot a fist into the air, thinking the jump a success before the bar bounced off its perch.

Later that summer, she would win gold at the Tokyo Olympics with a jump of 4.90m/16-0.75 feet).

"The Club that night was glad to be part of the fun, helping show how exciting it is to watch this sport in person, said Kenah. "For a guy who's been lucky enough to have been at some of the top sporting events in the world where world records have been set, in venues like Madison Square Garden and Olympic stadiums, it was just as cool to walk out of my office and see it almost done here, on a grassroots track by a woman in the zone on that day."

Including the track was part of the mission when Atlanta Track Club opened the doors to its new facility in 2015. A few months later, with its partner Rekortan, it installed a 50-meter straight track complete with pole vault box and equipment. It would later become the site of not only pole vault competitions but also clinics, collegiate indoor practices, the Club's elite athlete development and training sessions by some of the top athletes in the sport. (Leading into the Tokyo Olympics, the Atlanta-based group led by Olympic pole vaulter Brad Walker began training in the facility. The team included not only Moon but also 2016 Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris, Canada's Robin Bone and several others.)

The event this Saturday is managed and run by Hal Fairbanks and Matthew Barry, coaches and owners of Pole Vault Atlanta, which approached the Club after attending the 2016 Georgia Coaches Clinic it hosted. There is no full indoor track facility anywhere in the state of Georgia, but many athletes nonetheless travel to compete in the sport at the national level. The Club's track and the ATL PV meet thus serves the community, which needs an opportunity to compete in Atlanta during the winter.

Over the years, the championship has consistently seen more than 100 youth, high school and open athletes compete. These athletes have set national leading marks for indoor pole vault across all divisions. One of the event's most prestigious years of high school competition was 2017, when Hunter Mallard (16-0) and Becky Arbiv (13-7) set U.S. #1 high school marks and meet records. Mallard would go on to jump at Georgia Tech while Arbiv would take her talents to Duke.

Mallard and Arbiv still hold the meet records for high schoolers, and it is Moon herself who holds the meet's open record, set in 2020, at 15-1.

Top female competitors this year include 2023 Wingfoot Night of Champions runner-up Madison Townsend (Westminster/PV-ATL), 2023 1A State Champion Adair Carlin (Galloway/PV-ATL) and Tennessee State Champion Fiona Eastman (Flicky Stick PV). On the boys' side, 7A State Championship Will Frederick (Marietta/FSPV), 5A State Champion Jordan Frank (North Springs/PV-ATL), and Harrison Green (Davis Academy/PV-ATL) will be looking to take the top spot.