SHIPPENSBURG - If you wanted to find the most reserved PIAA track and field gold medalist this weekend, one needed to look no further than Northern Cambria High Schools's Gus Yahner.
In fact, the Colt senior pole vaulting star almost appeared disappointed.
"It's not my best jump," Yahner said when asked why we wasn't taking winning more happily. "It wasn't my best jump."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Northern Cambria’s Gus Yahner wins the gold in the pole vault at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
Maybe not, but Yahner's eye for perfection paid off, if not exactly in the manner he liked, when he placed first in the Class AA boys division of his event on Saturday afternoon at Seth Grove Stadium.
Yahner and Springfield's Chris Stone both cleared 15 feet but neither made the next height. However, based on the fact that Yahner had fewer misses at the last height they achieved, he wound up in first place.
"He was gunning for first here at states. He was practicing hard and staying after hours, doing what he needed to do," Northern Cambria pole vault coach Hayley Paronish said. "I think his dive to get here is what enabled him to do it.
"It's really rewarding, as a coach, to have a part in it. But it's all him. It's not me."
In winning the event, Yahner did what was expected. He was the top seed and the only competitor to clear 15-0, or even 14-6, at his district meet. Yahner, though, went about winning in an unconventional way, and made the competition more dramatic than many had anticipated.
Entering the meet with his eye on the 16-foot mark and a PIAA record, Yahner didn't even attempt his first vault until the bar was raised to 14-0. Just by clearing that, he was assured a medal, as only five others at the meet managed it. In fact, eight Class AA boys pole vaulters didn't even make 12-6.
Yahner, though, missed his first attempt. Then he missed twice at 14-6. He had been making both those heights regularly.
"I was scared and angry," Yahner said. "I was anxious. I didn't feel comfortable. Even the jump I made at 14-6 was close."
Yahner used three different poles in an effort to find something that felt right, that got him on the proper path.
At first, Yahner wasn't even certain he won the gold when he and Stone went out at 15-0.
"I thought they looked at most misses, but apparently it's the last height. Then, if that's the same, they go to most misses," Yahner said.
Yahner had been in that position before. One of the more gifted pole vaulters in the area for several years, he didn't have a lot to show for it. As a junior, he got a state sixth place medal, but he only jumped 13-0 at both the District 6 and PIAA meets after making 14-6 earlier in the season. He also was the top seed at districts as a sophomore but finished third and missed out on advancing to states.
That was a psychological bar he had to get over.
"After I missed twice at 14-6 and other kids were making it, I thought, 'It's going to end up just like last year,'" Yahner said.
Yahner fought through the past disappointments, though.
"One of the best things about Gus is his drive to succeed," Paronish said. "He's always practicing hard. He has the ability. He has the physical strength. He has the speed. He has everything he needs."
Yahner's been pole vaulting since seventh grade, when he came out at a friend's invitation. He almost immediately took a liking to the pole vault and found success there.
"Once you get near the top, everything seems to slow down. A split second feels like five seconds," Yahner said.
But, Yahner said, don't let the fact that he wasn't doing backflips fool you. Saturday's win meant a lot.
"I'm still very happy," Yahner said.