Twenty-five thousand dollars. Stacy Dragila had never seen that
much money. But that's how much she won on March 9, when she
beat the world-record holder, Emma George of Australia, in the
women's pole vault at the world indoor track and field
championships in Paris.
Or so she thought. A month later, back home in Pocatello, Idaho,
Dragila, 26, had test-driven a new car and was looking at houses
with her husband, Brent, when she received a letter from the
International Amateur Athletic Federation, the governing body of
track and field, saying she had violated IAAF rule number 18.17.
The money was being withheld, Dragila was informed, because she
had folded the bib showing her entry number in Paris, hiding the
name of the meet's primary sponsor, Mita. Dragila's skimpy
singlet had been barely big enough for a bar code, much less a
bib. "I'm not blaming anybody. It was my own negligence," says
Dragila, who wrote letters of apology to Mita and the IAAF. In
May she received a check for the $25,000.
After her performance two weeks ago at the U.S. nationals in
Indianapolis--she successfully defended her title with a vault
of 14' 1 1/4"--she confirmed her status as a champion, but she
is still cautious about her future as a pole vaulter. "It's
going to take some time for women vaulters to get recognized,"
In the spring of 1993 Dave Nielsen, Idaho State's track and
field coach (and a former pole vaulter himself), looked down his
roster and chose Dragila and a few other women to try the pole
vault. That was the year that Melissa Price got women's vaulting
off the ground by competing for her Kingsburg, Calif., high
school, and coaches everywhere saw the beginning of a trend. "It
attracted so much attention," says Bob Fraley, the men's pole
vault development coordinator for USA Track & Field and now
Price's coach at Fresno State. "I mean, a massive amount of
coverage from TV and newspapers."
Dragila had the perfect background for the event. As a child in
Auburn, Calif., she did gymnastics until she was diagnosed as
asthmatic and had to quit. Then she got into rodeo: breakaway
roping, goat-tying and team roping. At Placer High she went out
for track and field. "I tried everything," Dragila says. "I
liked the relays, I tried the hurdles, and I played around with
the long jump a little bit." After graduating from high school,
she attended Yuba (Calif.) College, where she played volleyball
and ran hurdles and relays on the track team. In Dragila's
second year, Yuba's track and field coach, John Orognen, asked,
"Why not try the heptathlon?" Dragila liked the variety of the
event, and it became her ticket to a scholarship to Idaho State.
But the heptathlon would not be her signature event for the
Bengals. Nielsen saw in her a strong, light athlete--Dragila is
5'7", 140 pounds--who was game to try something new, namely the
vault. What he could not predict was how hard Dragila would
continue to work at her new specialty, even after exhausting her
NCAA eligibility and beginning graduate school in physical
education administration. Says Nielsen today, "Here is someone
who is truly breaking ground."
Despite getting a share of the indoor world record--14' 5
1/4"--in March, Dragila has not found sponsors. She called Nike
and Adidas, but, she says, those companies told her that they
wanted to invest in a more established event. "Sometimes I get
discouraged," says Dragila, who is an assistant women's track
coach at Idaho State. "I feel I'm putting a lot of other stuff
on hold. [She dropped out of graduate school last year, with
plans to resume next fall.] But Coach Nielsen tells me, 'If I
had had the talent you do, I'd have been an 18-foot vaulter.'"
Finding competition is another issue. The meet in Paris was the
first world championship to include women's pole vaulting; the
event will not be part of this summer's world outdoor
championships in Athens. As for the Olympics, the 2000 Summer
Games are in Sydney, and George, whose world outdoor record is
14'11", may be Australia's best hope for a track and field
medal. "If Australia has any influence," Fraley says, "they
would add the pole vault there."
For now, Dragila will have to be content with competing on the
European Grand Prix circuit this summer, trying to earn the
recognition, as well as the prize money, she believes she
Cameron Morfit covers sports for the Post & Register in Idaho
Falls. This is his first story for SI.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Dragila won her second national title with a vault of 14' 1 1/4" and hopes to compete in the Olympics. [Stacy Dragila pole vaulting]