Former Coyote has eyes on the gold By James D. Cimburek
Yankton Press & Dakotan Four years ago in Athens, Derek Miles was all about taking it in. Later this month, he wants to be about taking his career to new heights. Miles, the former University of South Dakota Coyote athlete and current USD assistant coach, left for Beijing Tuesday with the hopes of adding a crowning achievement to his long career, an Olympic medal in the pole vault. Miles made his first Olympic trip in 2004, finishing seventh in the Games at Athens, Greece. â�?�?Maybe, in some respects, the first time around was probably all about taking in the whole experience,â�? he said Monday, as he prepared for his final practice before hopping a flight Tuesday. â�?�?This time, it will be a little more focused.â�? That focus may include skipping Fridayâ�?�?s opening ceremonies to get to the teamâ�?�?s training camp in Dalian sooner. â�?�?The opening ceremonies is a pretty long process,â�? he noted. â�?�?The whole thing takes eight to 10 hours, mainly standing on your feet. Twenty hours of flying, followed by eight on your feet, takes days to recover from. I have to balance things a little bit, make sure Iâ�?�?m physically ready to compete while, at the same time, taking it in.â�? Dalian, an hourâ�?�?s flight from Beijing, will be Milesâ�?�? home for a week until he returns to Beijing two days prior to the pole vault preliminaries on Aug. 20. The finals are two days later, on one of the last days of the track and field competition. Milesâ�?�? approach to the Games has been based not on what medal heâ�?�?s aiming for, but what height he fills will achieve his goals. â�?�?Itâ�?�?s really easy to get caught up in guessing what itâ�?�?s going to take to get in the top three. You can guess until the cows come home,â�? he said. â�?�?Iâ�?�?ve completely detached myself from that mentality. Iâ�?�?m going to go in trying to jump 19'-4". The goal to jump 19 feet, four inches, is not based solely on its significance as a personal best. â�?�?Typically, in the past, itâ�?�?s been enough to medal,â�? he said. â�?�?I am more focused on making sure I can jump 19-4. At that point, I will assess where I am at.â�? While Miles feels he would be satisfied with a career best on track and fieldâ�?�?s largest stage, he says a medal in international competition is the one thing thatâ�?�?s missing from his long career. â�?�?I am the only one whoâ�?�?s been in the game as long as I have who does not have a medal. Iâ�?�?d like to walk away from the sport with some sort of medal,â�? he said. â�?�?This will be the seventh time Iâ�?�?ve represented my country, either in the World Championships, Olympics or Pan Am Games. Itâ�?�?s kind of a monkey on my back at this point.â�? Despite that, the focus remains on what he needs to do in order to clear 19-4 and beyond. â�?�?For me, the battle is against myself,â�? he said. â�?�?If I go in, jump higher than Iâ�?�?ve ever jumped, compete at my best, I can be happy. â�?�?Iâ�?�?m capable of 19-4. I just need to focus on that rather than getting wrapped up in the medal situation.â�? Friendly Competition While Miles is the U.S. champion, he will still face plenty of competition from his own team. Brad Walker, who was born in Aberdeen, is the current U.S. record holder. The man who Walker claimed the record from earlier this year is the other U.S. entrant, Jeff Hartwig. Miles and the 41-year-old Hartwig have been close friends since they trained together in the 1990s and early in this decade. Hartwig is the only individual who has competed in every â�?�?Derek Miles and Friendsâ�? pole vault competition held at the DakotaDome. (Miles withdrew one year due to injury.) Getting a chance to share one more major competition with his longtime friend is an experience Miles is looking forward to. â�?�?Jeff is one of those guys who is just great to be around,â�? Miles said. â�?�?Not only does he just have fun, he is as seasoned a veteran as they get. Not just in terms of competition, but in terms of â�?�?shy away from that foodâ�?�? or â�?�?this is the place to go.â�?�? All those things become part of the experience.â�? The two will even share a flight from San Jose, the U.S. Olympic Committee staging area, to Beijing. â�?�?It makes things easy, light-hearted,â�? Miles noted. Not All Work Miles will be all business while he prepares for competition, but he also plans to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime. â�?�?Iâ�?�?ve never been to China,â�? he noted. â�?�?I want to experience the whole atmosphere. This may be my only opportunity to see China.â�? Miles has plans to see the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City while in the country, but not until after competing. â�?�?It will all be after everything is done,â�? he said. â�?�?Iâ�?�?m going to focus on the task at hand, then try to play a little tourist there.â�?