Loveland vaulter jumping from Tiger claws to C-Paws

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It is a unique skill.

You sprint like an ancient knight engaged in medieval jousting, deposit a pole into a trough, hoist yourself upward, contort your body over an inch-thick bar, then fall some 12 to 13 feet downward toward a pit of foam.

Most track athletes can't successfully execute the first few steps. Fortunately for Loveland High School, Eric Bryant can. The senior holds the school record in the pole vault and is about to begin his sixth season of soaring for a Tiger track team.

"I started in the seventh grade at Loveland," Bryant said. "I just saw the pole vault as being unique and different and I wanted to try it. I realized I was pretty good at it."

At 6-4, Bryant used his athletic build in basketball for a couple years and in football all four years at Loveland. However, propelling his lanky frame skyward in the spring proved to be Bryant's calling.

"It helps a lot," Bryant said of his height. "The taller you are, the closer the pole is to vertical. College coaches actually look for the taller vaulters."

Kent State, Morehead State and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs coaches all looked at Bryant, but he settled on the comforts of home and the University of Cincinnati. He will focus on math and business and clearing the bar for the Bearcats.

"I'm very excited," Bryant said. "UC field coach Kris Mack is from the West Coast and is a lot like my current coach, Scott Carney. They're very similar."

Not associated with the UC track team, Bryant practices with other prep athletes with the UC Track Club. The group is open to any area athlete. There is a fee to belong and per event, but the participants can use UC facilities (this time of year, the old Armory Fieldhouse).

The convenience and camaraderie sold Bryant on staying in town.

"I met the vaulters at the UC Track Club and I got along pretty well with them," Bryant said.

At Loveland, Bryant has cleared 13'3" (in last year's regionals at Dayton) and surpassed 14' in the summer. The regional mark set the school record, one that Bryant hopes to better by more than a couple feet this season. He's shooting for 15'6".

How does it feel to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, flip over a bar and freefall into a pit?

"It feels really good," Bryant said. "When I first went to 13' and tied the school record, it felt really, really good. When I broke it, it felt even better. It just goes really fast, you don't even think about it."

To perfect his craft, Bryant watches You Tube videos of others, including those of retired Ukrainian vaulter Sergey Bubka. His record of 20' 1.75" has stood since 1994, when Bryant was a baby.

He also relies on the local "pole-vault community." Because of the specialization involved, many schools share tips, video, facilities and sometimes equipment.

"Loveland doesn't supply much. I have to usually go out and get it on my own," Bryant said. "Anderson and Turpin gave me poles."

When not soaring on Loveland's track, Bryant soars toward musical notes with the Loveland Show Choir. Though he prefers B.O.B. and Lil' Wayne, Bryant and the singing Tigers are preparing for the World Choir Games upcoming in Cincinnati.

In a recent show with the choir, he was able to play the part of Dan Aykroyd's Blues Brother character, "Elwood."

The "Pole Man" Bryant will be in class at UC this fall.

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