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Foundations in gymnastics gave Landry, Lambuth and Balcomb pole vaulting tools
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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Their paths to pole vault success had the same starting point — in a completely different sport. And though the three of them compete for different schools, their paths converged last week when they all earned trips to the CIF State High School Track and Field Championships, which will take place today and Saturday at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Colfax senior Tess Balcomb, Placer senior Tawny Lambuth and Del Oro freshman MacKenzi Landry all started out as gymnasts at Miyagi Gymnastics Academy in Auburn. All three posted state-meet qualifying marks of 11 feet, 9 inches at last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium. Landry captured a share of the section title by clearing the 11-9 mark earlier than Balcomb and Lambuth, who tied for fourth. Joining the three pole vaulters at the state meet will be Placer senior Jordan Burke, who will run in the girls 3,200 meters. The fact that the Balcomb, Lambuth and Landry all wound up competing in the pole vault may strike some as an amazing coincidence. Then again, much of what they got from gymnastics proved useful in the pole vault. “In gymnastics, you’re upside-down a lot,” Landry said. “That helps with your awareness. When you’re upside-down (in the pole vault), you know where you are and stuff. “Plus, in gymnastics you have the vault — you have to run really fast and then jump off a springboard (to do a handspring off a pommel horse). That’s a lot like the pole vault, where you have to run really fast down a runway and stick your pole in the box.” “Gymnastics builds up your body strength, which is a big plus,” Balcomb said. “The discipline I learned from gymnastics also helped.” Lambuth was the first of the three to give up gymnastics for the pole vault. The fact that her gymnastics skills proved so adaptable to the pole vault helped attract her to the event, she said. “It’s also fun because you get to go really high,” she said. Lambuth and Balcomb have been among the Sac-Joaquin Section’s best for most of the season. Lambuth was ranked seventh among California girls pole vaulters going into the Masters meet, while Balcomb was ranked ninth. Their rivalry is a friendly one, however. “We both have a competitive side,” Balcomb said. “We’ve each pushed each other to try to be better. We’ve each progressed the same this year and last year.” “If one of us PRs, the other one wants to PR because we both want to be the same height,” Lambuth said. “One of us is really happy for the other when we do PR.” Lambuth and Balcomb both have personal records of 12 feet. Lambuth reached the mark two weeks ago at the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division III championships in Modesto, while Balcomb set her PR last season. “I’ve been starting to get to 12 feet (in practice) since sections,” Balcomb said. “I hope to get to 12-3 at the state meet.” Both Balcomb and Lambuth plan to compete in the pole vault at the NCAA Division I level next year. Lambuth is bound for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, while Balcomb is headed for UC Santa Barbara. Landry could join them at the collegiate level if her meteoric rise continues. She has only been competing in the pole vault for six or seven months, and entering the Masters meet her previous best mark was 11-1. “To see her go to state as a freshman is really good,” Balcomb said. Balcomb and Landry both took up the pole vault because of family ties. Balcomb was enticed to the event by her father Doug, who competed in it at the University of Oklahoma and volunteered to coach her at Colfax if she’d give it a try. Landry, meanwhile, is following in the footsteps of her brother Connor, who owns Placer’s school record in the boys pole vault (16-2) and recently won the Big West Conference championship as a freshman at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Though Landry still has a few years of high school left, she said she plans to enjoy what could be her last opportunity to compete against her fellow Miyagi Gymnastics alumni. “It’s pretty cool to be able to jump on the same level as the seniors,” Landry said. “We all did gymnastics together and we’re all friends, so to be able to compete together at state is pretty cool.”