Wright There

March 12, 2010

by Jon Cooper, Associate Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA

ATLANTA — Joanna Wright’s coach says the sky is the limit for her.

Another inch and a half two weeks ago would have been just fine, however.

That’s how close Tech’s junior pole vaulter came to qualifying for this weekend’s NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, taking place at the Randall Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark.

“I’ve never been to indoor nationals before, so I wasn’t really expecting to [qualify],” said Wright. “I was hoping for it, but I’m alright with just getting ready for outdoor and I’m definitely planning to go to outdoor nationals.”

Before even considering the use of words like “settling” or “complacency” you should know that the jump that left Wright just short of a spot in the NCAAs measured 4.21 meters (13 feet, 9 3/4 inches for those of us metrically challenged) and won the conference championship at the ACC Indoor Championships held in Blacksburg, Va. It also set a Georgia Tech indoor record, surpassing the old mark of 13′-2.5″.

“I’ve been trying to [break the school record] for a while, so it felt really good to finally do it, and I broke it by a lot,” said the Winston Salem, N.C., native. “I was one centimeter below it before. So it was nice to finally break it in my third year.”

“It was real exciting,” agreed Coach Allen Bradd. “She had been within one centimeter of it last year and she competed really well. It was a tremendous feeling. But she didn’t just break the record. She ended up beating the mark by 7 1/4 inches. It was an incredible performance. She stepped up and competed really well on the biggest stage, in the conference meet. It was a blast.”

Blasted would be a fitting description of what Wright did to the old mark, set by Jessica Graff in 2003. Shattered would work, decimated, demolished, obliterated…you get the idea.

The indoor record makes a nice bookend for Wright, who last year took ownership of the school outdoor record (12′-9.5″). That she is the best pole vaulter in school history doesn’t surprise Bradd. But he’s not ready to stop Wright at best in Atlanta.

“Joanna is freaky talented,” he said. “She has the ability to be NCAA Champion, she is so talented. She has huge ability to go well beyond the NCAAs and compete at a professional level and possibly make some international team some day.

“Her strength-to-body weight ratio is incredible and her speed — she was an incredible sprinter and hurdler in high school — she is incredibly fast,” he added. “So she is able to move through the air with a tremendous amount of speed.”

Speed and strength is the key for Wright, a gymnast when she was very young who discovered pole vault after trying it in ninth grade. She also recalled watching an older cousin do it and thought it looked like fun.

Bradd is having fun watching Wright as she continues to grow and improve.

“She’s a very, very smart person. She really has a good feeling for the event,” he said. “I would say the three biggest things are her talent level, her feeling for the event and her understanding of the technique.”

Sometimes, he admitted, Wright can be a little too smart.

“She has a tendency to think about things, so physically she’s not quite as aggressive as she could be,” he said. “She really needs to mature a little more competitively. When she does that, she can jump an entire foot higher before she graduates. She has that much talent.”

Bradd wishes he could get Wright to see herself with the same visions of grandeur that he has for her and to get her to consistently attack the bar like she did the one in Blacksburg that sat at 13′-2.5″.

“Joanna has to learn how to, for lack of a better phrase, get a better killer instinct,” he said. “She has to have a little more tenacity and a little more killer instinct. If she ever does that she can be one of the best pole vaulters in the entire USA. There’s no doubt about it. I push her very, very hard to try to develop it, but it’s something that really has to come from within.”

Right now Wright’s sights are set on the upcoming outdoor season, but there will be one more shot to reach the NCAA Indoors that she just eluded her this year.

And we’ve learned how Joanna Wright responds to just missing.

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