Hunter Mallard is talented and blessed — two great things going for the rising star in the pole vault from Gainesville High.
As a sophomore in 2015, he won the Class AAAAA state title in the pole vault at the Georgia Olympics, clearing the mark at 15 feet. As he continues to climb the ranks and set the bar higher, he’s got instruction from Paul Malquist, a 2010 Gainesville High grad, who won two state and two national titles as a Red Elephant in high school doing the pole vault.
For his efforts, Mallard is The Times’ Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
“It felt good to win a state championship, it was a sense of accomplishment,” said Mallard, who will compete this week at the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Jacksonville, Fla. “But I feel like it’s just a step and I really want to go further with it.”
When Mallard won his state championship in Jefferson, he got into the competition with only one other athlete remaining, after clearing a mark in qualifying of 13-6. Mallard said, in competition, his biggest hurdle is battling the understandable butterflies in a sport where you propel yourself into the air on the end of a highly flexible pole. With so many athletes dropping off the championship chase before the tall-and-slender Mallard started to compete, he said he had to sit and wait until early afternoon to begin.
In all aspects of this highly challenging event, Mallard’s got Malquist, who went on to compete at the University of Georgia, to teach every angle of becoming the best athlete he can be.
When Malquist started training Mallard last fall, Mallard said instead of tweaking his performance, Malquist broke it down to the basics. Mallard said Malquist has covered all 14 parts of the pole vault, starting with the sprint down the runway to clearing the bar in the air.
Malquist, who holds the school record (17 feet) and state record (16-8), said it is ultimately up to Mallard as to how far he goes with it. In terms of body frame, Malquist said his young student has a leg up on him, but still has a way to go to match Malquist’s strength and speed.
“It’s hard to say how he’ll progress,” said Malquist. “When he starts going after those higher marks, he’s going to have to become that much more of a technician.”
Mallard has already told Malquist that his marks are what he wants to break. Malquist said he’s all in favor of having another Gainesville athlete take over his marks.
“Hunter’s gifted physically, and he’s not done growing either,” said Malquist.
Much of the training Malquist and Mallard do in practice together is done away from the pole vault pit. Mallard does lots of short-distance sprints, primarily the 100-yard and 200-yard, to fine-tune his fast-twitch muscles. Then in the weightroom, Malquist is going to have Mallard concentrate on the lifts to help his leg strength, such as front squats, dead lifts, and the incline bench press for upper body strengthening.
“Working with Paul has been extremely helpful,” said Mallard. “He was able to take me back down to the basics and work on every angle of things.
“He’s got me to where I focus on one step at a time.”
Malquist said that Mallard will also start experimenting with new poles, which will hopefully improve his performance.
In addition to cross training, Mallard has experience in different events in track and field, prior to settling on the pole vault as his specialty. Mallard has done it all, including the discus, long jump, high jump, hurdles and sprinting.
Mallard has also learned how to dissect, to find the best performance, during his sprint down the runway, which ranges from 80-90 feet.
“He really wants to take it to the next level,” said Malquist. “Even though he’s still very new to the pole vault, he’s like a sponge for information, a very smart kid.”