Varsity Extra

This Idaho 15-year-old is a national track champ. But his sights are set even higher.

Incoming Emmett High sophomore Landon Helms won a national pole vaulting title and set an age-group record at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Championships three weeks ago at 16 feet, 1.25 inches.
Incoming Emmett High sophomore Landon Helms won a national pole vaulting title and set an age-group record at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Championships three weeks ago at 16 feet, 1.25 inches. Courtesy of Mark Helms

As a recent national champion, Landon Helms isn’t satisfied with just winning competitions. He wants to rewrite the record books.

That’s exactly what the 15-year-old did July 25 when he won a national pole vaulting title at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Championships in Sacramento, California.

The incoming sophomore at Emmett High and 11 other Idaho athletes competed as part of YMCA’s Team Idaho. Helms finished first in the 15- and 16-year-old boys age division, and he set a meet record for his age group at 16 feet, 1.25 inches.

Getting launched into the air high enough to clear most one story suburban homes seems terrifying, but Helms has taken it in stride since he started.

“I started off watching videos of the professionals,” Helms said about his original fear. “In my head I knew I was just going to be thrown (over the bar). I quickly learned that it was a slow progression and I had to feel comfortable with what I was doing.”

Helms started pole vaulting in the sixth grade when his father, Mark, convinced him and his older brother to try it. Ever since, Landon has become more relaxed during the vault. He won Idaho’s 4A state title and set a classification record as a freshman this spring at 15-6.

Idaho’s all-class state meet record is 16-6.

“I don’t think too much about what I’m doing,” Helms said. “I’ve done it so much that it’s become muscle memory. The only thing I think about is being aggressive, because if you are passive in vaulting, then you are more likely to get hurt.”

It wasn’t easy for Helms to break the meet record. Weather conditions were less than favorable in California this late into the summer.

“Those few days were over 100 degrees,” Helms said. “(The heat) affects the bend of the pole. As the poles get hotter, they bend easier but they don’t recoil as quickly. They weren’t reacting like they do in a normal temperature.”

Still, Helms achieved his goal of setting the meet record and is now focused on reaching the 5-meter mark — roughly 16-4.75 — and the all-around national record for his age group of 16-10. Even with the new goals in sight, Helms is riding the high of his latest victory.

“I knew on my second jump that I had won the meet,” Helms said. “I don’t really know how to explain it, other than it was amazing.”

Alongside Helms, three of his teammates also finished in the top eight in their respective competitions at the national championships. Eagle grad Zoe Johnson was sixth in the girls high jump for 17-to-18-year-olds. Incoming Timberline senior Kade McCall was fifth in the boys 17-18 hammer throw. And incoming Cole Valley Christian senior Brooke Weimer was fourth in the girls 17-18 heptathlon.

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