Daughter soars like dad ; Johnson tops in nation in girls pole vault
USA TODAY; McLean, Va.; May 16, 2002; Ray Glier;
Copyright USA Today Information Network May 16, 2002
Chelsea Johnson's backyard in Atascadero, Calif., is a mecca for pole vaulters. Competitors show up from around the USA to work out in the four pits set up by her father, Jan, the 1972 Olympic bronze medalist in the event.
It seemed odd to everyone, except Chelsea, that she didn't jump into the sport.
"It wasn't my thing," she says. "It was my dad's thing. I was too busy playing soccer or (hurdling)."
Then, in January, Johnson decided she would get serious.
The 18-year-old senior at Atascadero High has been to just 15 meets, but she is the nation's top high school girls pole vaulter at 13 feet, 4 inches. She also has earned a track scholarship to UCLA and is making a bid for the U.S. junior national team.
"I decided to give it a try for a month and see if I liked it," she says.
Johnson says her father never pushed her but always told her to let him know when she was ready to give the sport a try.
"He saw the potential, I didn't, and I think that was kind of hard for him," Johnson says. "When I started doing well, he was very excited. My whole life people have asked me, 'Why don't you pole vault?' I don't regret not taking it up sooner. I think soccer and the hurdles have made me much stronger physically and prepared me very well for pole vault."
Johnson hasn't had any discouraging moments since she began vaulting, not even with the three recent deaths related to the sport, where competitors missed the landing cushion and hit pavement.
"I don't think helmets are necessary if you know what you are doing and the coach knows what they are doing," Johnson says. "Pole vaulting is an extremely safe sport. I don't have a fear of landing on my head; my dad is not going to put me in unsafe situations. I think soccer is more dangerous."
Credit: Special for USA TODAY
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