Hunter Mallard survived the heat. In fact, the blistering temperatures and humidity helped Mallard with his performance at the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Championships on Saturday in the Houston suburb of Humble, Texas.
The Gainesville High pole vaulter was surprised by how much the weather played to his advantage.
“It made the pole more flexible,” Mallard said.
That flexibility led to a personal-record 12-feet, 7 1/2-inch vault and a tie for 16th place out of 34 competitors in the boys’ 15- and 16-year-old division at Nationals at Turner Stadium.
He said it was 96 degrees at 10 a.m. and the humidity made it feel even hotter.
Mallard, in his first year doing pole vault and a rising sophomore for the Red Elephants, hit that personal mark on his first try.
“That was really an adrenaline rush,” Mallard said. “It was a bummer that I couldn’t get 13 too. But I still finished in the upper half of nationals my first year doing this. I’m really happy.”
Mallard previously finished second at the regional meet with a vault of 12-7 in Rock Hill, S.C., to qualify for the Junior National event. He also took seventh place at the Class AAAAA state meet as a freshman.
Mallard enjoyed getting to see other top-notch competitors and learn from their methods. And he said it was less nerve-wracking than a state championship meet as fellow pole vaulters were supporting each other.
“The competition was friendly,” Mallard said.
Mallard still had some nerves before starting, but they didn’t last when he cleared his first vault with a foot to spare.
“Nerves went out,” Mallard said. “From there on, I felt like I was rocking it.”
He saw the national event as a great chance to get advice from other coaches. The best counsel he received had to do with adjusting to the wind while pole vaulting. The result was coming half an inch short of clearing 13 feet. He said he’s tucked that advice away and is sure to use it again.
Coaches also told him to keep calm and adjust when he feels the need during meets.
Overall, it’s an experience Mallard won’t soon forget.
“It was amazing to be there,” Mallard said. “And it was amazing to see all the other athletes there.”
And now the Georgia heat doesn’t feel so hot as he’s resuming training back in his hometown.
“It’s actually a relief,” Mallard said. “I’m not sweating bullets and about to pass out.”