Otto touches the clouds as pole vaulting record holder
Gracie Otto set the 4A state record in the pole vault at the state championships in May by reaching 10-feet 3-inches. It was a height she had never reached before in practice. (Marie Otto)
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Shortly after notching her personal best and a 4A record in the pole vault at her region meet, Gracie Otto—who also did cross country and swimming—said she had achieved her greatest athletic accomplishment.
Little did Otto know, she would top that feat two weeks later.
Otto, a recent graduate from Hillcrest High, won the state pole vaulting event at the 4A track and field championships breaking her previous record of 10-feet 1 ¼-inches by reaching 10-feet 3- inches.
“I was super excited and almost shocked actually cause I think it was on my third attempt,” Otto said. “So after I got over the bar it was quite amazing, and I felt the same joy as I did (at region).”
While the picture-perfect weather on the day helped (no wind), Otto said the key was the pole she ended up using.
After using one or two different pole sizes throughout the entire season, Otto and her coaches decided to use a longer and heavier pole at region. They went even higher at state using a pole that was six inches longer and five pounds heavier.
“You get better and more forceful at what’s called blowing through a pole,” said Scott Stucki, track and field coach. “So you’re bending it so much that you don’t get the same kind of spring out of it. The way to combat that is to move up a size.”
After many conversations between vaults, Otto said it was nerve-racking but her coaches told her to focus on the technique and the pole would do it for her.
“I was nervous ‘cause I used a pole I had never used before and it ended up working in my favor so that was great,” Otto said. “It was really nice to end the season like that.”
Otto wasn’t the only Husky to reach the podium as juniors Tara Sharp and Olivia Finlayson finished third and fourth respectively.
“[Gracie and Tara] both had a couple chances (at the record) before Gracie got it. It was a lot of fun watching those girls do that,” Stucki said.
Though she was a distance runner when she started high school, Otto had seen pole vaulting in the Olympics and wanted to do it in high school. But prior to her arrival, girls used to compete with the boys before it became its own scoring event a few years ago.
Stucki was instrumental in making it a scoring event. With Otto asking to compete and a pole vaulting coach from another school suggesting a girls’ event be created separate from the boys, Stucki spearheaded the effort that made it happen.
“I just begged my coach, and I said I really wanted to try pole vaulting, and I thought it looked really cool…. I was really happy he was able to get that,” Otto said.
With both Otto and Sharp coming from gymnastics backgrounds, Stucki said it makes them so proficient at the sport.
“Going upside down and the acrobatics of finishing off the vault at the top of the pole and getting over the bar just doesn’t faze them ‘cause they’re used to flipping around in the air,” he said. “They have the upper body strength to do it.”
The gymnastics is part of the pole vaulter’s training. Otto said they use rings and bars to help with their technique.
A state champion who stood alone atop the podium, it was those around her, Otto said, that helped her reach those heights.
“I don’t think I would’ve gotten this far without the support of my coaches and of my teammates,” she said.
Otto would later add winning state “was great to do it with some of my best friends and teammates there competing with me and supporting me.”
Otto intends to continue her body launching ways. While she will attend the University of Utah in the fall, she plans to transfer to the University of Hawaii to study marine biology and join the pole vaulters on their track team.