Siuslaw track coach Chris Johnson was looking to showcase high school pole vaulters when he organized the inaugural Florence Street Vault on Wednesday at Bay Street in downtown Florence.
As it turned out, an eighth-grader stole the show.
Addison Kleinke, an online school student from Eugene, thrilled the crowd by clearing 13 feet, 6 inches. The mark would be good enough to improve on her national 13-14 age-group record, but the event was not sanctioned.
“She was a star,” Johnson said of Kleinke. “We thought we had a good event, but she made it 50 times better. She made the event, no question about it. It's so refreshing to see somebody that good, and she was humble.”
Last summer, Kleinke won a gold medal for the 13-14 age group by clearing 12-0 in the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships in Florida. She set the national record for her age group in December by vaulting 13-0 at a meet in Texas and improved to 13-1 last month.
The 5-foot-1 Kleinke, who turned 14 on Dec. 1, took it up another notch in Florence. Her 13-6 soared past the Oregon high school record of 13-0, set by Sarah Sasaki of North Clackamas Christian in 1999.
“We had a measuring tool, and it was all legit,” Johnson said. “She's a show-stopper. She's a little thing, but she can flat-out vault. As soon as she got on the runway, everybody could tell that she was just special.”
The meet started at noon, but Kleinke wasn't aware of it until her mother, Melanie Cutler, found out about it at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Kleinke jumped out of bed, left home shortly after 10 a.m. and arrived in Florence at about 11:30 a.m.
“My mom was knocking on my door, and she was like, 'There's a street vault in Florence, and we're going,'” Kleinke said. “I wasn't fully prepared mentally or physically. But the meet went pretty well.
“The adrenaline definitely kicked in. I got there and I saw the crowd, and it started building with every single attempt I took. And I was freaking out.”
Kleinke was comfortably over the bar at 13-6 before missing on four attempts at 14-0.
“My first one at 14 I was pretty close,” she said. “I felt like if I would've moved the standards for it, I probably would have made it. And then I kind of ran out of juice.”
Kleinke, who plans to compete for Churchill as a freshman, has her eyes on the national high school record of 14-9, set by Paige Summers of California last year.
“I think sophomore, junior year, is when I'll crack that,” Kleinke said. “I'm trying to go for the Olympic Trials in 2024, so I've got to get that before 2024.”
Kleinke was among four girls and 11 boys to compete in the event, all unattached. Marshfield junior Trent Summers won the boys competition at 15-0.
Johnson got the idea for the meet last year when Siuslaw senior pole-vaulter Camp Lacouture built a movable pole-vault runway for use at the high school track.
“I just thought, 'We've got to do something with this thing, let's take it to the street, let's go downtown and vault,'” Johnson said. “And of course, the boys thought it was a good idea.”
Johnson planned to stage the meet on Bay Street, in the heart of the business district. The city council was receptive to it.
“It's a good time in Florence now because we had success in football and cross country in the fall, and everybody's pro-sports,” Johnson said.
A work crew loaded up the runway and other equipment on three flatbed trucks and took them downtown early Wednesday morning. They took about three hours to set everything up before the meet started at noon.
It attracted curious onlookers.
“How many people have really seen the pole vault in person?” Johnson said. “They have no idea how cool it is. Even when the kids were warming up, people were just like, 'Ooh, ahh,' like the Fourth of July.”
As for the future of the event, Johnson said he is going to gauge the feedback of the businesses on Bay Street, which was closed for eight hours Wednesday.
“There are other places we could do it,” he said. “Now I know we can do it and I'll have no trepidation. And I know it's popular.”