Litchfield returns to his roots

Bear River grad refocuses for what could be his final season as a pro pole vaulter
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on athletes from the Auburn area who are gearing up for a run at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Paul Litchfield has gained plenty of healthy perspective in his eight years as a professional pole vaulter. Perhaps it’s because he’s overcome serious injuries to compete in the sport he loves, or that he often drives thousands of miles and spends his own money to compete in events that go virtually unnoticed by even diehard sports fans.
At age 31, with the London Olympics looming this summer, Litchfield is taking his fresh perspective with him on his quest for the ultimate prize in track and field – Olympic competition.
“This season I definitely feel a sense of urgency to have success, because it might be my last season,” said Litchfield, a Bear River High graduate who is living and training in Auburn this winter and spring. “I’m training well, training smarter. Physically I don’t have what I had before, but I’m trying to enjoy each competition because I’m able to compete.”
Litchfield is currently in his adopted hometown of Pocatello, Idaho. He set the school record on his way to becoming an NCAA All-American in 2002 at Idaho State University – the same school where Stacy Dragila’s pole vault career grew roots.
Litchfield competed in an exhibition Friday after driving 1,000 miles on Thursday and the results were lackluster. But his real focus is the Simplot Games next week, when he’ll have the chance to face some quality competition. He’s also relishing a week with his coach Dave Nielsen at Idaho State.
When he returns to Auburn later this month, Litchfield plans to devote nearly two months to intense training without competing.
“I’ll have about a six-week cycle where I’m just going to practice and work out a ton,” Litchfield said. “I need to put some weight back on and start hitting it hard to get ready for the end of April and May.”
Litchfield, who goes by the nicknames Superman and Tuxedoman, plans to join the pole vault circuit in Southern California this spring, competing at the Mt. Sac Relays, and at other events around the state where he can find great weather and the competition he needs to gear up for the main event — the U.S. Olympic Trials, June 25 in Eugene, Ore.
Before he competes on that prestigious stage, Litchfield will be toiling away on modest facilities. He constructed a runway for himself at his parents’ home and is borrowing a pole vault pit. He also occasionally trains at Bear River High School, or at Placer.
“People in Auburn have been really supportive of me,” Litchfield said.
Litchfield is constantly balancing his training and competition schedule with rest for his back. He has two herniated discs in his lower back that have limited his ability to compete at times over the past several years. But Litchfield said the injuries have helped him become a more efficient athlete.
“I don’t want to say it’s holding me back, it’s just a unique set of challenges,” said Litchfield, whose personal record in the pole vault is 18 feet, 4 ½ inches. “I would almost say I wouldn’t be doing as well if I were totally healthy. It’s made me more appreciative of the healthy days. I’m more consistent, confident. I can’t waste good days, I have to really embrace the good days.”