Rue takes home gold in Pan Am Games

The Gophers’ freshman pole vaulter eclipsed her career-best vault en route to the gold medal.

Mark Remme

One month ago Minnesota’s freshman pole vaulter Alicia Rue took off for Sacramento, Calif., to compete in her first NCAA Championships with high hopes and expectations.

The results weren’t so favorable. She was unable to clear the opening height of 12 feet, 3 1/2 inches and was forced to sit the rest of the meet.

“It was kind of an eye-opener having to watch everyone else for the rest of the weekend,” pole vault coach Caroline White said. “But instead of sitting around asking why this stuff has to happen, she looked at it in the first person, like, ‘I’m going to fix it.’ “

And fix it she did. Rue competed last weekend in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as part of the Pan American Junior Championships and took home the gold medal.

Rue said after she made her initial jump, she reached a groove and kept increasing the height as the competition went on.

“I was so excited and I couldn’t believe I was jumping so well,” Rue said. “Not only was I jumping my best, I was the best in America.”

It was one of 48 medals the U.S. team took home during the three-day track and field event. Rue’s top jump of 13-9 1/4 cleared her career best by six inches.

“What an unbelievable weekend,” women’s track coach Matt Bingle said. “It made the hairs on my arms stand straight up in the air. It was a great opportunity, and the cool thing about it is she did it at a world meet.”

With the international scope looking on, Rue came through with a steel-will performance. White said the freshman pole vaulter refocused after the NCAA showing in Sacramento in order to make herself better.

It’s that type of drive – along with her clearly visible athletic ability – that made White tell Bingle during the recruiting process that she thought Rue could clear 14 feet someday.

White said that type of drive comes not only from physical ability but also from knowledge of the sport.

“She’s a smart girl; in a pole vaulter that’s an important thing,” she said. “(You need to) problem solve and take ownership – study events and improve.”

Rue needed to rely on that instinct and know-how in order to compete in Sao Paulo, considering she was without her Minnesota coaches to back her up. The result this time was even more than Rue expected as she said she was hoping to creep up to the bronze position.

Instead, Rue found herself standing alone at the end of the tournament as the loudspeakers honored her and her country.

“After you win they take you to the staging area and you hear your name announced while the national anthem is played,” Rue said. “It’s a huge honor.”

Rue, a Plymouth native, has three more years remaining in her collegiate eligibility. After a prominent international showing like this past weekend, the Gophers might have a viable national title contender in their ranks for the foreseeable future.

And considering that Arizona State junior April Kubishta took home the 2007 NCAA title in the pole vault with a 13-11 1/4 leap, Rue’s numbers are not too far off the pace.

White said she has confidence in Rue’s ability to compete, especially after the turnaround she has been through since June’s NCAA championships.

She said Rue is beginning to recognize that every meet is different. At each competition one person has a great day and another has a poor outing, White said, so the key is to improve on consistency.

Bingle said that if she continues to work hard along with the success she’s already achieved, a peak in her performance might be coming quicker than anyone expected.

“She fits on our team well; she’s a great student and she’s well-deserving,” Bingle said. “When you do the right things, you get the rewards.”