It’s been five years, but Indiana University pole vaulting coach Jake Wiseman still remembers marveling at Sydney Clute, who was then competing for Center Grove.
“It was always surprising how she could do as good as she did and jump as technically bad as she did,” Wiseman said with a laugh. “She was fast and strong and real athletic, and you knew she was going to be able to do it. But it was just so bad.”
Clute’s bad was still good enough to earn her a pair of third-place finishes at the state meet (2010 and 2012), but her better has put her in the running for an NCAA championship this spring.
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What her best could lead to is anybody’s guess.
“I definitely still have a lot of things to work on and a lot of things to fix technically with my vault, which is a good sign,” Clute said. “I don’t look perfect clearing 4.55 (meters); there’s still a lot of things to fix. So I know I can definitely jump higher.”
After topping out at 12 feet, 9 inches in high school, Clute has improved each year while competing for the Hoosiers. By the end of her sophomore season, she was an All-American, vaulting 4.15 meters (13 feet, 7¼ inches) to finish eighth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Following a redshirt year in the spring of 2015, Clute came back last year to win the Big Ten indoor and outdoor titles and take fourth at the NCAA outdoors. She vaulted 4.42 meters (14 feet, 6 inches) at the Big Ten outdoor meet to set new school and conference records.
The school mark has already been broken this spring. In a meet earlier this season at Arizona, Clute cleared 4.55 meters (14 feet, 11 1/8 inches) — which also happens to be the “A” qualifying standard for this year’s U.S. Track & Field Championships.
In another meet at Tennessee earlier this month, Clute also beat a highly decorated pair of former teammates — Kelsie Ahbe, who represented Canada in the 2016 Olympics, and Sophie Gutermuth, who qualified for last year’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
Before the year is out, Clute would like to vault 4.6 meters (just a shade more than 15 feet) and win a national championship.
Next month, Clute will earn her master’s degree in tourism hospitality. She’s hoping to find a job right away, but she also plans to continue training and competing in hopes of getting as far as she can — perhaps even the 2020 Olympics.
“The U.S. is very, very strong in pole vault right now, so that makes it a little bit harder,” Clute said, “but I definitely feel like I want to keep training, because I know that I’m not done, and I know that I can jump higher and be better than I am right now. So I want to give it a shot.”
Wiseman agrees that Clute has plenty of room for growth as a vaulter, but just as importantly, he says, she’s got the same type of drive as the other Olympic athletes he’s seen come through Bloomington.
“She’s definitely got that personality, that mentality of what it takes to be good,” Wiseman said, “and I think that’s something you can’t often teach.”
Clute’s athletic ability — she was also All-State in the long jump and in golf while at Center Grove — is also something that can’t be taught. Pole vaulting technique, however, can be, and as Clute continues to master it there’s no telling how high she can fly.
Higher and higher
A look at how Sydney Clute’s personal best in the pole vault has improved year by year: