Now in its 94th year, Hayward Field — because of its rich history — has long been considered the Emerald City of men’s and women’s track and field.
Old-school structural features, such as steel girders and close spectator proximity, have long had a way of connecting the ghosts of yesteryear to the realities of today.
It’s here Indiana University sophomore pole vaulter Sydney Clute, a Center Grove High School product, makes her Hayward debut this week, having qualified for the NCAA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Clute is one of three Hoosier athletes taking part in competition on the University of Oregon campus. The others are senior pole vaulter Kelsie Ahbe and senior shot put specialist Kyla Buckley.
Ahbe is making her third appearance at nationals, Buckley her fourth. This provides Clute two quality sounding boards should she find herself in need of one.
“I’m excited to be going, just the experience of nationals and the opportunity to compete,” said Clute, who qualified by clearing a career-best 4.20 meters (13 feet, 9¼ inches) to place seventh at the NCAA East Preliminary Meet on May 31 in Jacksonville, Florida. “One of my goals before the season started was to clear 14 feet, and I still haven’t done that.
“It’s definitely achievable.”
The championships are spread over four days. The pole vault competition doesn’t begin until Friday.
Already it’s been a memorable season for Clute, who prior to the East prelims finished third at IU’s own Billy Hayes Invitational (13-7¼) and 11th in the Big Ten Championships with a vault of 13-0¾.
Before that, Clute nabbed first place at the Penn Relays by clearing 13-4½ and was third at Alabama’s annual Crimson Tide Invitational.
Throughout the season in practice as well as competition, Clute has shown gradual improvement, according to ninth-year IU assistant coach Jake Wiseman.
“Sydney is really smart as well as very mature for her age, which helps her a lot. When Sydney comes to practice, she comes to practice,” said Wiseman, who also coaches the Hoosiers decathletes and heptathletes.
“I think she has a little bit of a chip on her shoulder from last year (when Clute finished 21st at the East Prelims, clearing only 12-7¾),” Wiseman said. “With Sydney, I’ve never felt like we were ever taking steps backward. She’s a perfectionist and a smart girl.
“She’s going to figure it out.”
Those unfamiliar with the intricacies of pole vaulting won’t notice the technical tweaks Clute has made in her two collegiate seasons. Rest assured, they’re there.
“A lot of the improvement is because of technical things like my take-off, getting my hands up right as you’re hitting the (pole vault) box and staying close to the pole as you go up,” she said.
A total of 24 vaulters have qualified for nationals. The field includes, among others, three-time qualifier Ahbe, Virginia Tech junior Martina Schultze and University of Miami (Florida) sophomore Alysha Newman.
The top eight finishers at the NCAA Championships are named All-American, with places 9-16 securing second-team All-American status.
Clute would love nothing more than to eliminate two birds with one memorable 14-foot vault.
Given the historical aura dominating Hayward Field and the Oregon city they affectionately refer to as Track Town USA, she’s out to make some history of her own.