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Carrying on the legacy: Hobart pole vaulter Johnston clears 17-6 at regional, eyes state record

VALPARAISO -- Even as Cody Johnston continues to amaze people with his pole vault exploits, the Hobart senior is amazing himself.

"That was my first time jumping at that height," Johnston said. "I've tried like 17-3, 17-4. It was crazy."

With the eyes of everybody in the stadium on the north end of the track, Johnston stirred the crowd into a rhythmic clap, taking off down the runway and up and over the bar, set at 17 feet, 6 inches. He flipped out of the pit, sprinting halfway down the straightaway and back to the vaulting area to a multitude of congratulations.

"I felt like I had everybody behind me, rooting for me," Johnston said, prior to seeing any video of his vault. "It felt good. The adrenaline just hit me. It was cold, but the weather didn't really play a part in it. Once I got jumping, it was good."

The typical Northwest Indiana spring weather has held back Johnston, who had worked his way up incrementally through chilly conditions that were no different for Thursday's Valparaiso Regional.

"Trust me, that's a lot of stress," Johnston's dad and coach, Jim Johnston, Jr., said. "We've been wanting that bar since the start of outdoor season. He almost made it the very first outdoor meet, then we went back and did like 17-1, 17-1 1/2, 17-2, then we've had bad weather the last three, four weeks, and haven't done anything other than short bar. He's been over 17 feet nine times now. We took 17-6 because it's the next increment. We've been waiting to hit that. The season's almost over and he hadn't boomed another big jump. You've got to have good weather and good pits."

Johnston cleared 17-6 on his first attempt and decided to call it a night there.

"It's cold, it was a long day, we were here at 3:30," Jim said. "You've got to keep all that in mind. That's how you can get hurt. Just call it a day.

"We sort of knew we've got to get 17-6. If the situation was right, we would've went for 18, the top of the standards. We'll save that for next week hopefully."

The University of Illinois commit has jockeyed with Bryce Barkdull of Andover Central (Kansas) for the top spot in the nation this season, Barkdull recently reclaiming it with at 17-6 1/4, which is also the Indiana state record.

"They've already finished their state meet," coach Johnston said. "For a while, (Cody) was one, then this kid came out. We'll go 17-6 1/2 at state to hopefully break it. If it's bad weather, we're not doing anything."

The reigning state champion, Johnston cleared 16-8 last season, when he went straight to the record height.

"I want to break the record, that's the big goal," he said. "If it's good weather, like it usually is (for state in Bloomington), I want to go 18. That would be nuts."

At 146 pounds, Johnston is still growing, so he's not close to topping out physically.

"He just has a couple whiskers," Jim said. "He was always the little guy with all those guys who are monsters playing football. He's got to fill out a lot. He gets to Illinois, I look for him to get really big and thick."

For a few points of reference, Johnston's height would have won the Atlantic Coast Conference title and placed third in the Big Ten. The 2024 Olympic qualifying standard in the pole vault is 19-0 1/2.

"I'm not looking that far. I'm focused on step by step, day by day, week by week," he said. "I'll worry about 19 when I get there."

A third-generation vaulter, Cody is following a legacy started by his late grandpa Jim, the family pole vault patriarch, that includes his dad and brother Riley, who vaults at Indiana, uncle Robb and some cousins.

While Jim has sold his parents' home to a close friend, Jim still owns much of the property where he built a training compound that's developed many a vaulter.

"He wasn't going to let that go," Cody said.

Even as Cody's career is ascending, he is already thinking of how he can help advance the sport that means so much to him.

"We want to start camps this summer for kids who don't have coaches," he said.


Cody Johnston of Hobart cleared 17 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault at Thursday's Valparaiso Regional. The Brickies senior ranks second in the nation in the event for high school athletes.

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