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Freshman pole vaulter Sean Clarke cleared the first two heights at the NCAA championships to finish in 15th place.

Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

Who said this: “In high school, I wasn’t that into pole vault.”

A. The highest-placing Ivy League pole vaulter at the NCAA Championships.

B. One of the three freshmen to compete at NCAA Championships for pole vaulting.

C. Penn’s second ever All-American pole vaulter—the first being Van Zimmerman in 1953.

The answer is all of the above; the man is Sean Clarke.

Penn almost missed out on the freshmen sensation, as the vaulter was initially leaning toward taking his pole vault prowess to either Princeton or the US Air Force Academy. A first-hand experience with the team changed his mind, however.

“The coaching staff on my visit just made me feel so wanted,” Clarke remarked. “That’s really what cinched it for me… The other schools were just looking for somebody who could score points for them, whereas at Penn I really felt like Coach Klim wanted to develop me as a vaulter for my own sake.”

And develop, he has.

At the 2017 Indoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, Clarke finished in 8th place, only clearing 4.80m. This did not sit all too well with the Florida native, and it acted as the catalyst for a remarkable string of performances in the waning months of the season.

“I had a really bad meet at [indoor Heps] … I felt like I had let the team down at the first big opportunity,” he recalled. “People thought I was crazy … but I told them after that, that I was going to outdoor nationals.”

And go to outdoor nationals, he did.

Clarke was the lone Quaker representative to embark on the trip to Eugene, Oregon for the biggest collegiate track meet of the year. While Clarke had grown accustomed to having the support of his teammates, being the only Penn athlete forced Clarke to adjust his game.

“It was a total mindset adjustment because this whole year, that’s been a big thing for me, that is, having a very large track team be very supportive,” he said.

The starting height was set at 5.15m, which Clarke easily cleared on his first attempt. The bar was raised to 5.30m, and again he cleared but only on the third attempt this time. Clarke was finally stymied after three valiant attempts with the bar at 5.45m, but nonetheless his performance was enough to finish in 15th place — second best among all freshmen and good enough to earn him  second team All-American recognition.

Where does Clarke go from here? Well, Team USA, hopefully.

Clarke will travel to Sacramento, California later this month to compete in the USA Track & Field Junior Outdoor Championships. If he finishes in the top two there, he would qualify for Team USA, and would then be able to compete in July’s Pan American Junior Championships in Lima, Peru.

All that from a man who was not that into pole vaulting in the not-so-distant past.