Many athletes will leave the world track and field championships in Seville as victors; Stacy Dragila left as a trailblazer. Dragila won the first world outdoor title in women's pole vaulting last Saturday night with a world-record-equaling 15'1". A 28-year-old former heptathlete who began vaulting competitively five years ago as a junior at Idaho State, Dragila has improved by five feet since taking up the event and has helped raise the profile of women's vaulting, which will make its Olympic debut in Sydney. "I'm part of history now," she said last weekend. "That's forever."
In Seville, Dragila won a thrilling battle with Anzhela Balakhonova of Ukraine. Dragila's victory wasn't secure until Balakhonova narrowly missed at 15'3". Dragila also missed at that height, but Balakhonova had failed to clear 15'1".
Sadly, the IAAF, track and field's governing body, didn't treat the women's vault and the other new event for women, the hammer throw (which was to be contested on Tuesday), with the respect they deserved. Medalists in every other event at the worlds received $60,000 for winning gold, $30,000 for silver and $20,000 for bronze. Medalists in the two new women's events got $30,000, $15,000 and $10,000. "I hope next year [in Sydney] they don't give us half a medal," said Dragila.
A year ago Dragila was a long shot to make it to Seville. In the summer of 1997 she suffered an injury to her left calf during a vault in the Czech Republic. Instead of resting, she continued to vault and while favoring her calf, hurt her plant (right) foot, an injury that plagued her for more than a year before it was properly diagnosed as a fracture of the navicular and surgically repaired last September. The foot injury caused her to have a miserable '98 season, including a no-height at the Goodwill Games.
Now she's pushing women's vaulting higher than many cynics thought it would go. "People said the women would get to no more than 14 feet, and now we're over 15," says Dragila. "I think 16 feet is possible before long. Maybe not next year, but soon."