Walker wins pole vault goldPosted: Updated:
OSAKA, Japan - Brad Walker drew almost as much attention for his blue Mohawk haircut as his pole vaulting.
That wasn't easy to do, considering he won the event Saturday night at the world track and field championships. The former University High School and University of Washington athlete captured the title by being the first vaulter to clear 19 feet, 2 3/4 inches.
"It feels phenomenal," said Walker, who's also the reigning indoor champion. "I couldn't be happier."
The haircut was a spur-of-the-moment decision. He said he always competes better with a fresh haircut, so he recruited U.S. teammate Jacob Pauli to give him a trim.
Pauli did more than that. It was Pauli's idea to go with the dye job - it was supposed to be black, but turned out a cross between blue and purple. He also cut in stripes that resembled lightning bolts.
"He asked if I wanted to add the stripes and I said, 'Lightning's fast. That can't be a bad thing,"' Walker said. "We thought some speedy lines would add some pizazz."
After clearing his winning height, Walker felt a little twinge in his back. He said he's glad that no one cleared the next height of 19-4 3/4.
"I had to dig pretty deep," said Walker, adding he had a lot of pain from two bulging discs. "I've had to back off training quite a bit."
Walker may also have to back off his future trips to Australia. He recently traveled Down Under to spend time with renowned Russian pole vault coach Alex Parnov, who works at the Western Australia Institute of Sports. Parnov also coaches Steven Hooker, who took ninth.
"Alex has been told not to help me," Walker said. "In response to that, I was motivated. Alex is one of the best coaches around. It takes more than a couple of weeks down in a country to build an athlete. I was a little bummed out. I put that in the fire and used it as fuel."
Walker's primary coach is Pat Lacari, but he visited Parnov just to work on technique.
"I didn't learn any training strategies," said Walker, who has the world's best vault this season at 19-6. "In terms of what I gained in Australia, it was a fun trip with a lot of cool guys."
A little back pain wasn't going to keep Walker from competing at worlds. Then again, he has a high pain threshold. At the 2006 world indoor championships in Moscow, Walker hit his head on a warmup run when his feet landed on the mat and his head fell back, smacking the ground. He was examined and allowed to compete, winning the event in 19-.
As he wheeled a portable suitcase behind him Saturday, Walker moved from one interview to the next, answering every question tossed at him.
He said it's now just beginning to sink in that he's a world champion.
"This is incredible. You always try to peak at a championship," said Walker, a two-time NCAA indoor champion while at the University of Washington. "Luckily for me I've been able to put together some good jumps. But I've got a little work to do to get my back healthy. We'll see how everything goes."
As for the haircut, he was pleased with it.
"I couldn't decide if I should leave it blonde or do something crazy," Walker said.
"I went with something crazy."
The Associated Press copywright 2007