Miles qualifies for pole vault final Athens

Miles qualifies for pole vault final Athens by Timothy Guidera ATHENS, Greece � Directly under the flame he has been chasing, four years came down to one jump for Derek Miles.

The University of South Dakota graduate had missed his first two attempts at 18 feet, eight inches in the 2004 Olympic pole vault competition Wednesday night. He had one left to keep the Athens Games alive for him and to continue distancing himself from the close call at the 2000 Olympic Trials when he missed a spot in Sydney in a jump-off.

He took care of it all when he cleared the bar and his first hurdle at the Athens Game.

Miles made the automatic qualifying height in his final shot at it Wednesday and advanced to Friday's pole vault finals. He will be one of three Americans among the 16-man field competing for medals.

"Oh man, that was big," said Miles, who will be joined by United States teammates Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson in the finals. "No doubt I was a little nervous. But I was more nervous about finding the right combinations to make the pole do what I needed it to do."

Figuring that out had gotten a little harder for Miles recently.

Just this week, he noticed he had damaged two poles at his last competition. And they just happened to be the two that he would use when the bar was raised into the area of 18-8, which on Wednesday would guarantee a place in the finals.

He had spent the last four days in Athens repairing them, with glue and grafts, but he also needed time to get used to how they would react in competition.

Unfortunately, his first night at the Olympics became that test event.

"It took a couple of attempts to work my way onto the damaged part of the pole," said Miles, who lived in South Dakota for 10 years before moving to Arkansas in 2001. He is now an academic advisor at Arkansas University. "It just took some feeling to get used to it."

He didn't have to say the same about the Olympics, his debut being duly memorable.

The first two hours of his competition last night bordered on tedious, with fans still arriving and various events fighting for their attention. During that time, Miles made just two jumps, easily clearing 18.04 and 18.37 feet, and spent all but a few minutes of it in warm-ups.

But a lot more was going on as he prepared for his opening attempts at 18-8.

For his first, the Olympic Stadium was still buzzing from Fani Hakia winning a gold medal for Greece in the women's 400-meter hurdles. As he awaited his second jump, six of the previous seven vaulters had just qualified for the finals.

"That's when I said, 'O.K., I think we're finally on the biggest stage you can hit,'" said Miles. "After the Greek girl won that race, the place was just going nuts. That was just piercingly loud. It was an unbelievable experience.

"But, mostly, I was just relieved to get through tonight. Our goal was to make it to the finals. It was a little shaky, but I think we got some things figured out. And I think now that we're in the finals we can relax and take that experience forward."

Miles will have his last jump and the confidence it gave him working to his advantage.

"I'm excited," said Miles. "This was really good as far as experience to take into the finals. So I think it will be a lot smoother in the finals."

Savannah Morning News sports columnist Tim Guidera is covering the Olympics for the Morris News Service. Contact him at tim.guidera@morris. com.

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