Miles seventh in Olympic pole vault

Miles seventh in Olympic pole vault by Timothy Guidera ATHENS, Greece � The bar came down Friday, but Derek Miles' spirits never did.

The University of South Dakota graduate missed his last three jumps in the 2004 Olympic pole vault competition to finish in seventh place, one spot up from his qualifying position. He nearly cleared 5.85 meters on his last attempt, grazing the bar on the way over it before falling to the mat and out of medal contention in the Athens Games.

But Miles' frustration was temporary, eased by watching United States teammates win gold and silver medals in the competition and reflecting on just what he had accomplished himself over the last three nights.

"I'm a little disappointed because I felt like I had the ability to jump higher," said Miles, whose last successful vault was on his third and final attempt at 5.75 meters. "But I had fun, and that's what it's all about.

"You can really get caught up in all this. You can say, 'oh, I didn't win, I didn't get a bronze, I didn't do anything.' But the whole idea is to get back to that same mentality you had when you were 13 and you had a bar. All you were trying to do was get over that bar. That's what keeps us going."

American Tim Mack kept going all the way to 5.95 meters and the gold medal Friday. Toby Stephenson was leading until Mack's last attempt at the winning height and took silver, giving the U.S. first and second in pole vault for the second straight Olympics.

And that also gave Miles the final embraceable moment of a memorable time in Athens.

He stayed on the track for more than an hour after he finished competing, watching, rooting for and occasionally encouraging Mack and Stephenson, who were the world's two top-ranked vaulters coming to the 2004 Summer Games.

"That was great," said Miles, who relocated from South Dakota three years ago and is now an academic advisor at the University of Arkansas. "Those guys have been jumping great all season, and they deserved to go 1-2. Anytime Americans go 1-2 it's amazing, and I had a lot of fun being out there for it."

Shortly before he became a spectator, Miles thought he still had a chance to be right with Mack and Stephenson.

He said his last jump was his best of the night, that he thought he had made it from the instant he left the ground.

Typically, there's little surprise about a failed attempt. Most vaulters can tell before they finish their approach whether they have hit all the steps necessary to clear a given height. And Miles thought he had Friday, right up until he brushed the bar just enough to bring it down.

"When I left the ground, I just knew I made it," he said. "Pole vaulting's just like that. Sometimes you really hit it, and everything's perfect, and the bar just tips on the way up.

"To have it end on the best jump of the night is maybe an optimistic way to look at it, but that's what I'm doing."

And, as he prepared to leave his first Olympics, Miles will continue looking up � in height and into his future.

At 32, he's neither a pole vaulting youngster nor too old to continue in the sport. He plans on continuing his training when he returns to Arkansas and will compete internationally next season.

And he'll reserve a spot in the back of his competitive imagination for a certain big meet in Beijing four years from now.

"Well, you know, you never know," said Miles, who will turn 36 a month after the next Summer Games. "When you're 31, every year gets a little tougher. But I definitely have the mentality that I'd like to make it to 2008. I'm going to definitely try, but staying healthy and having the same speed and the same strength, only time will tell."

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

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