Rantanen’s goals exceed U record

Allison Younge

About 12 years ago, in the small town of Virrat, Finland, a backyard pole vaulting pit was quite an unusual site. But that didn’t bother Gophers record-breaking vaulter Vesa Rantanen.
“The runway was grass, and I had a little pole that I’d stick in a certain place in the ground every time,” Rantanen said. “I’d vault barefoot and land on the sand on the other side. It made the ground a little softer.”
At last week’s Texas Relays, Rantanen’s dedicated training regiment was evident. He claimed the Gophers’ new pole vault record (18 feet, 5 1/4 inches), clearing the Gophers’ previous mark, set by Martin Eriksson, by half an inch. The mark also automatically qualified him for the NCAA outdoor championships in June.
“His performance was surprising because it happened so early in the season,” Gophers coach Phil Lundin said. “It was only his second outdoor meet, and lately his training load has been very high.”
Rantanen did not compete for the Gophers during this year’s indoor season. He took winter quarter off and returned home to Finland to take care of family matters.
While at home, Rantanen continued to practice and compete in tournaments for his Finnish sports club team. After four months, he decided it was time to return to Minnesota and the Gophers program.
“I thought it would be better to come back here and do something, instead of just being at home and training,” Rantanen said. “It’s good to have other things in your life — besides track.”
For the next few months, however, Rantanen will be bound to a jam-packed track and field schedule. After competing for the Gophers in the outdoor season, Rantanen will travel back to Europe to participate in several international meets. Because Rantanen’s season will stretch throughout the summer, he has carefully planned out a training schedule so he won’t face burnout.
“I try to compete as little as possible during the outdoor season — only in the big meets,” Rantanen said.
With Rantanen already qualified for the NCAAs, he can afford to opt out of a few meets without ill effects.
“It’s good that I can choose when I want to compete,” Rantanen said. “If I’d compete for the whole spring and summer, I’d get too tired — at least mentally.”
The mental preparation that Rantanen goes through before a meet is intense. His focused, no-nonsense attitude sets a standard before every competition.
“When I go through warm-ups, I usually can’t do anything,” Rantanen said. “But when I have my jersey and number on, I feel great. And I usually get huge vaults. It’s like night and day between training and competing.”
Rantanen’s career has reflected steady progress throughout. Since junior high, Rantanen has heightened his vaults by about one foot every year.
“Eventually, you reach a limit and it’s not easy to improve,” Rantanen said. “You need to be a much better athlete to go higher.”
The numbers show that Rantanen hasn’t yet hit the limiting point. At last year’s Big Ten outdoor championships, he set the Gophers’ freshman outdoor record with a vault of 17-10 1/4 and tied for fourth place. He recorded a vault of 18-4 1/2 at last summer’s Finnish championships and improved to 18-5 1/4 last weekend to claim the Gophers’ record.
“His technical skills as far as his approach and take off are world class,” Lundin said. “I haven’t seen any better.”
Rantanen has set his sights far beyond Big Ten and NCAA honors. The Olympics, the World Championships and the European Championships are on his list of goals for the future.
“My vaults are about one foot below Olympic vaults,” Rantanen said. “It’s not impossible, but I have to work very hard and be very lucky.”
Things have definitely changed for Rantanen since his days of backyard vaulting. At the rate he’s improving, there will be no more rough, barefoot landings — just a smooth ascent to higher achievements.
Note: Rantanen will not compete in the Gophers next two meets. He will return to action for the Drake Relays, April 25-26.