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Nineteen feet, or 5.7912 meters.

That's the height that separates world-class pole vaulters from the masses. Brigham Young's Robbie Pratt expects that he'll soon soar past that height - and his coaches agree.

"Without question," Pratt's event coach, Larry Berryhill, said, adding that 19 feet, 6 inches, is in reach.

During the Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nev., in January, an event that included nearly every important pole vaulter in the United States, it was Pratt who impressed.

"We heard all the same comments," Berryhill said. " 'He's really going to go.' He has the potential to vault very high."

Pratt's coaches aren't the only experts who see his unlimited potential.

"A very, very good vaulter, who has the ability to jump much higher," said Bob Fraley, Fresno State track coach and creator of the Pole Vault Summit. "He's got good speed, he's tall and he's worked a lot.

"What's really important is an athlete's ability to use a large pole, and he can do that."

Actually, Pratt made two 19-foot vaults in Reno. But whether it was a breeze or a tremor, something happened to make the bar fall off its posts.

"We were in the pit celebrating and the bar fell off," Berryhill said with a laugh.

The 26-year-old Pratt, the defending NCAA champion, knows that it is a matter of time. He's already been to the Olympics as a 19-year-old and is looking to 2008 and a medal.

"We've been having good workouts all fall and through the winter," Pratt said. "We think I can be a consistent 19-foot vaulter."

Pratt, who has already cleared 18-8 this year, is solidifying his technique in preparation for the moment. The indoor record, set by Sergi Bubka a decade ago, is 20-2. No one has yet to approach Bubka's consistent marks.

"It really is just a matter of time," Pratt said. "I probably need to get a little faster, a little bit stronger.

"My chances are good, but it is tough to predict the pole vault. There are so many variables."

First, there is a bit more to the pole vault than just running up and jumping. Even the poles differ in flex and strength. The stronger the pole, the more energy it loads.

Bigger poles are difficult to bend, but will for an athlete who is strong enough - and fast enough. It's also about angles.

"Years ago, when Bubka set the world record, the reason was he was the fastest pole vaulter in the world," BYU track coach Mark Robison said. "But you can't just take a sprinter and say hold on."

And this is where Pratt's 6-foot-6 height comes into play. Pratt combines speed, strength and height to create the highest possible angle.

"The kick of the pole kicks you higher," Berryhill said.

Fraley said a vaulter's prime years are between ages 28 and 32.

"Three things determine success," Fraley said, adding that Pratt may well approach 20 feet. "Natural ability, fitness and technique and the mental capacity for the event. Can you handle stress. This is the area where he's really improved. Pratt seems to be much stronger mentally. He's tougher and more aggressive."

Pratt has been getting a kick from pole vaulting since he received his first pole at age 7 from Berryhill, who also coached Pratt's father, Elbert.

"I coached his dad," Berryhill said of the elder Pratt, an All-America decathlete for BYU. "When I start getting grandkids, I'll know it is time to leave."

There is a nuclear family relationship with track at BYU. Pratt's first name is taken from a Robison - Mark's legendary father Clarence.

A pre-teen Pratt began as a high jumper, but an injury directed him toward pole vaulting, thanks in part to his father, a native of Mexico, who is also a coach. It's been a profession that has taken him to various locations throughout the world. Pratt, whose mother Anne is a music teacher, was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Raised in Mexico, Pratt enjoys dual citizenship. He is a three-time Mexican national champion and has been battling Giovanni Lanaro for the country's vaulting record.

Pratt set it earlier at the Pole Vault Summit, but Lanaro recently went higher.

This is big stuff for a country that, excluding race walking, has had only one medalist in track and field.

"He has a great chance of qualifying for the [2008] Olympics," Elbert Pratt said. "If he does and wins a medal, kids throughout Mexico will begin taking up the pole vault."

Life with father the coach was also successful. Pratt's a 10-time national junior record, a Pan-American Junior Champion and was a semifinalist at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

"He's been around it his whole life," Robison said. "Even Bubka's coach spent time with him. It is hard to predict [an Olympic future]. But if he continues to make progress, he very much has a chance."

The sky's the limit.

"Right now, we're where we want to be," Pratt said. "My physical condition and training are slowly coming together."

Right to 19 feet.

Martin Renzhoffer can be reached at martyr@sltrib.com. To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to sportseditor@sltrib.com.

Decade-by-decade pole vault world records

1912 Marc Wright USA 13-feet-2 1/4

1922 Charles Hoff Norway 13-feet-6 1/4

1931 William Graber USA 14-feet-4

1942 C.Warmerdam USA 15-feet-7 3/4

1957 Robert Gutowski USA 15-feet-8 1/4

1963 Brian Sternberg USA 16-feet-4 3/4

1972 Bob Seagren USA 18-feet-5 1/2

1983 Thierry Vigneron France 19-feet-1 1/2

1994 Sergei Bubka Ukraine 20-feet-2

Robbie Pratt file

* The 26-year-old defending NCAA champion has already been to the Olympics as a 19-year-old and is looking to medal in 2008.

* At 6-foot-6, Pratt combines speed, strength and height.

* Born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Pratt was

raised in Mexico and has dual citizenship. He is a three-time Mexican national champion.

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