Dial, from Marlow, Okla., is second only to the master himself at Volzing and is perhaps the most easily identifiable vaulter at a meet. "Joe always smells like a grease monkey," says Bell. While other vaulters improve their grip on the pole by using two-sided tape and either chalk or lighter fluid (which makes the glue on the tape gummy), Dial treats his grip with gasket sealer.
Dial also stands out physically. "Joe's a little bitty skinny old kid," says Olson. "Maybe 5'8", 5'9". Doesn't have a muscle. Doesn't know what a muscle is." In fact, Dial weighs only 138 pounds yet is able to handle a 175-pound-test pole because he vaults in a European style, pushing harder into the pole with his left (lower) arm at takeoff and thereby putting extra arc into it for extra spring.
Dial, whose jump of 18'4¾" in Oklahoma City two weeks ago makes him the No. 2 U.S. vaulter so far this indoor season, learned the sport from his father, Earl Dean, a disabled welder who serves as Oklahoma State's unpaid vaulting coach. "Everybody in my family can vault," says Joe, "except one of my brothers, who got scared of it one time when the standard fell and almost chopped his ear off." Earl Dean Dial rigged up all manner of poles and pits for young Joe, who began vaulting when he was 5 and often worked out three times a day. "We'd sand poles down, tape 'em all up, put buckshot in the end, turn 'em upside down, you name it," recalls Joe. His only bad experience with the event came last summer, his first in Europe, when his sponsoring club deserted him and his vaulting rhythm did, too. "Some of the American vaulters told me, 'You ain't worth a crap. You ought to go home,' " says Dial. "That pretty well psyched me up for this year."
Pursley and Olson keep each other pumped up 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. "We can't do anything without making it a competition, putting down a little side bet," says Pursley, who grew up on a 250-acre wheat farm in Merkel, Texas, just 15 miles from Olson and ACU. "Of course, I kick Billy like a dog every time."
"Except when I beat you like a drum, which is always," answers Olson.
The rivalry, which carries over into weight, gymnastics and actual vaulting workouts, has made better jumpers out of them both but has especially benefited Pursley. He came to Abilene Christian in 1978 as a 14' high school vaulter, yet improved to 17' in his first year at the school, to 18'½" in 1980 and to 18'5½" last year. "Brad might, if not this year then next year, be the best vaulter around," says Bell. "He's just a natural athlete. He was a good football player when he was young. He's good at everything, and real likable. He's the kind of guy you'd like to see win the gold medal in '84. He might do it, too. If I had to pick now, I guess I'd pick him."
Surprisingly, Abilene Christian, a small (enrollment: 4,500) Church of Christ-affiliated school whose most famous athlete is 1956 Olympic gold medal sprinter Bobby Morrow, has become the nation's No. 1 collegiate pole-vaulting power. This season it has an unprecedented three 18-foot vaulters on the team (Pursley, Tim Bright and Dale Jenkins) besides Olson, whose collegiate eligibility ended in 1982. ACU Coach Don Hood himself was only a 10'6" vaulter back in the 1940s, but he enjoyed working with his coach at Tulare (Calif.) Union High, Virgil Jackson, who was a pioneer of the fiber-glass pole. "Brad and Billy have gotten to the level now," says Hood, "where all I'm really concerned with is increasing their strength and speed, which to me are synonymous. If you build strength, you build speed."
With that in mind, Olson and Pursley lifted weights fanatically in the off-season. "Crazy weights, unbelievable weights," says Olson, who added eight pounds of muscle. Ironically, injuries suffered in September 1980 that had threatened to end Olson's career actually helped his training. He shattered his left wrist and dislocated his elbow in a training fall. Those injuries prevented Olson, who had cleared 18'7½" that year, from vaulting at all indoors in 1981 and gave him a left arm he can't twist enough to handle barbells. When he began lifting with dumbbells, he was pleased to find that they allowed him to increase strength more rapidly than he ever had with barbells.
Besides, Olson may have done enough barbell work by the age of 10 to last him a lifetime. His father, Bill Olson Sr., who at the time was the Abilene city personnel director, started him lifting on the living-room rug when he was 5. "Then he'd send me out to do chin-ups on these big old monkey bars in the back," says Billy. "Every time company came over he'd drag them out and bet them on how many chins I could do. They'd guess about 10 and I'd do about 60. I thought that's where my future lay for a long time: pro chinning."
While at Abilene High Olson was a troublemaker with a seemingly dim future, traveling with a fast crowd. He played some golf, but only when a friend introduced him to vaulting the summer before his junior year did he begin to take athletics seriously. "I had been a total nobody all my life," he says. "My dad said I was a bum and I probably was. It was just that I was always so small. In ninth grade I was 5'6" and 90 pounds. When I graduated I was 6'2" and 135, which isn't much better." By that time, however, Olson had broken the Texas state high school record with a vault of 15'10".