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Gainesville's Mallard qualifies for Junior National Olympics in pole vault
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Everything really fell into place in a hurry for Hunter Mallard when he started to learn the ropes of the pole vault. As a freshman in 2014 at Gainesville High, he noticed it took strength, speed and lots of technique to master it appropriately. Now, less than a year after first trying his hand at this most complex event, he’s going for a national title.

“I found that the pole vault was unique and looked very interesting,” said Mallard, who doubles his time conditioning with football during the summer.

Mallard, a seventh-place finisher at the state championship meet this spring in Class AAAAA for Gainesville, will take part in the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympics on July 26 at Turner Stadium in Humble, Texas. The 15-year-old rising Red Elephants sophomore qualified second overall out of the 15-16-year-old age group with a mark of 12 feet, 7 inches at the regional meet Sunday in Rock Hill, S.C. At nationals, he’ll compete against about 35 other qualifiers from around the country.

Not sure yet the mark he’s going to strive for at nationals, he knows that he wants to win. He’ll start with a more manageable height — around 11-0 — when he arrives in Texas. Then he’ll start calculating all the variables in his head, including temperature and other athletes’ marks before marking his next goal.

He’ll take multiple poles to give different options once the day of the meet arrives.

“It’s pretty stunning to know that I just started the pole vault this year and am already in national-level competition,” Mallard said. “It feels awesome.”

Mallard said the biggest factor in his success is the unwavering support of his mother, Lara Mallard.

“I have the most supportive mom in the world,” Hunter said. “I don’t think I could be as serious as I am about the sport without her.”

The developing pole vaulter said he also has great instruction from his coaches at Gainesville High, Nick and Kira Niesielowski. Every afternoon during the summer, he’s out at the track doing his conditioning for two hours. He also has three hours of football work in the evening. For the pole vault, Mallard has been instructed in the ways of, first and foremost, warming up properly and taking care of his body. The most helpful of the drills, he said, is the Bubka pullup, a technique named after Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist Sergey Bubka where the athlete continually propels his lower body over the bar to develop core stomach and arm strength.

Once he’s in competition, Mallard will let his training and instinct take over, even though the pole can sometimes be unpredictable once it starts counting. The standard for success at Gainesville High was set with 2010 graduate Paul Malquist, who won two state titles and competed at the University of Georgia. Malquist’s school record stands at 16-9.

“I’ve met Paul and he’s a great guy, but I think I can beat his record,” Mallard said.

Mallard first weaved his way into the pole vault by simply asking the coach if he could give it a whirl. He’s not new to track and field, having competed in the hurdles, long jump and discus previously. However, the process of getting down the pole vault routine was something entirely different.

First, he had to conquer the physical aspect. Then, it was a matter of tackling his nerves and trusting his body. At 6-foot, 125 pounds, he isn’t as thick as others that he competes against, but makes up for it with his speed and meticulous detail in his strategy. He’s utilizing poles he said are suited for the athletes that weigh 165-170.

However, now he wouldn’t even consider stepping away from his newfound love of pole vaulting.

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