JEFFERSON — As Gainesville High senior pole vaulter Paul Malquist was preparing to set a new personal record Tuesday, Jefferson High’s Tyler Porter was right there next to him, rooting him on.
And when Malquist cleared the bar at 16 feet, 9 inches, Porter was one of the first ones to congratulate him.
One of the state’s best appreciating another one of the state’s best.
“This was supposed to be like a clash of the titans, but I didn’t come through on my part,” said Porter, a three-time state champion pole vaulter who was sidelined with a back injury suffered last Saturday at the Jefferson Relays. “I was definitely looking forward to competing against him, but I figured it would be best to just get ready for the region and state meet.”
Malquist, whose vault of 16-9 is the second highest in the history of Georgia high school pole vaulters, was also looking forward to competing against his peer, as it’s not too often that the two elite vaulters share the same field.
“It makes it a lot more fun when there’s someone right there with you competing against you,” said Malquist, who is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 9 in the nation according to dyestat.com. “I was disappointed, but I didn’t want him to hurt himself.”
While he didn’t get to compete against Porter, Malquist gained a new coach, who helped him achieve the height of 16-9.
“I put a lot of trust in him because he’s at the level that I’m at,” said Malquist, who won the Class AAA state title in 2009. “It helps when he tells me ‘you got this’ prior to a vault.”
Considered two of the best pole vaulters in the state, Malquist and Porter have formed a unique friendship through the sport. They push each other, they train together, they support each other, and since they compete in different classifications, they often win together.
That was the case during last year’s Georgia Olympics, when Porter won his third straight state title and Malquist picked up his first.
But although the two are similar in the present, their journey to elite pole vaulters are completely opposite.
Porter, whose current personal best in 16-1, knew he wanted to be a pole vaulter ever since he turned 7. His uncle was a state record holder, and his grandfather pushed him to head down that path.
“I just fell in love with it,” said Porter, who grew up watching the state meet each year at Memorial Stadium.
When he was old enough to actually compete, Porter, who is currently ranked second in the state according to gatxfc.com, started a rigourous training method that consists of two-hour practices six days a week.
“I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’ve trained,” he said. “I don’t have a calculator handy.”
Malquist doesn’t have that problem.
A natural athlete that excelled in basketball, football and baseball as a child, the senior picked up pole vaulting as a 13-year-old in the Chestatee school system and has quickly catapulted to the top of the sports’ scene.
“All my coaches knew I was athletic and they just wanted to see if I could do it,” Malquist said. “It looked fun to me, so I tried it.”
And he didn’t need much time to become great.
In seventh grade he cleared 9-6 and followed that up with a Hall County middle school record of 10 1/2 feet his eighth grade year.
He improved by an inch and a half during his freshman year and finished second in the state his sophomore year with a jump of 13-6. He bested that by more than three inches to win the state title as a junior.
“My name started to get out there my junior year and I saw some really great coaches who helped me improve,” Malquist said.
One of those coaches was Aaron James, who introduced Malquist to Porter.
“I didn’t really know Paul until my junior year,” Porter said. “He started to come up on the scene and I thought that I really needed to meet this kid so we could push each other.”
And learn from each other, as both said they admire certain aspects of each other’s technique.
“He’s super fast on the runway,” Porter said of Malquist. “He carries so much speed into the pit.”
Speed? Yes. Height? No.
“If I was his height I could be so much better,” the 5-foot-10 Malquist said of the 6-2 Porter. “I could use a larger pole and clear greater heights.”
Although he’s shorter than his peer, Malquist’s 16-foot pole is a foot larger than Porter’s, and the two also differ in approaches, as Malquist starts from eight steps back and Porter begins at six.
“I start at eight because it allows me to smooth into my run and I have more momentum going into the vault,” Malquist said.
Porter’s thinking about going that route as well.
“I would like to change to eight, but my coach thinks it might screw everything up,” Porter said.
So who’s the better vaulter?
“Right now, Paul is,” Porter said. “I gotta step my game up.”
He’ll have his opportunity to do so in the coming weeks when he competes in the region and state meet, and if Porter is unable to catch up to his friend this year, he’ll have plenty of opportunities in the coming years when he’s competing for the University of Tennessee and Malquist is competing for the University of Georgia.
“I’m sure we’ll see each other at the SEC Championships,” Porter said.