Penn’s pole vaulting records are on red alert — if they haven’t been broken by Sean Clarke already, that is.
The three-time Florida state champion has had a blazing start to his Penn career. Still only a sophomore, Clarke owns the best indoor pole vault in Penn history (5.30 meters) and the second best outdoor pole vault in Penn history (5.35 m). Despite this, Clarke remains humble, downplaying his accomplishments.
“To me, not that high,” said Clarke on where his indoor record, set on January 20 of this year, ranks on his list of all-time accomplishments. “The guy who jumped that height did it 40 years ago, so to me that is no big deal — the record was just a step in the direction I was taking my indoor season.”
This past indoor season Clarke helped Penn to its most successful season in recent history. Penn’s mens track and field came in second place at the season-ending Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships, the team’s highest place since 2002. The 102 points they earned along the way were their most since the 1998 competition. Clarke finished second in the pole vault that day, helping his team reach those lofty accomplishments. Despite his team’s success, Clarke was pushing himself for even more this past indoor season.
“I would have really liked to make it to indoor nationals,” said Clarke. “It is much harder than outdoor because there is no qualifier meet — it’s just the top 16 jumps of the year (that qualify) and that favors inconsistent people who can put up a really big number.”
One might wonder where this drive and passion for such a niche sport comes from for Clarke. As it turns out, pole vaulting runs in his blood. Clarke’s uncle was a pole vaulter at UCLA, exposing Clarke to the sport at a very young age. His mother was an Olympic gymnast — another sport that requires athletes to contort their bodies in seemingly impossible ways. As a result, Clarke was pole vaulting for his high school team while he was still only in eighth grade.
Getting an early start has clearly paid off for Clarke, whose impressive list of accolades will surely only continue to grow. The 2017 second-team All-American has doggedly pursued improving his form despite already showing that he is one of the best collegiate pole vaulters in the country.
“I trained through most of the summer. I stuck with pole vaulting which was unusual for me because I normally take some time off, but I think I corrected some deficiencies I had last year,” said Clarke of how he celebrated an excellent rookie season last spring.
Even during the one month layoff between the indoor and outdoor seasons, Clarke meticulously worked to improves his abilities. Instead of spending his spring break on a beach, Clarke went to Louisiana to train with a coach he believed could help him get better. With the motivation and work ethic to match his natural abilities, the sky's the limit for Clarke.
At the first event of this spring’s outdoor season, the Penn Challenge, Clarke soared his way to a first place finish. Yet for Clarke this has become the norm — the challenge now is to not only beat his peers, but also the records set by his predecessors.
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