Class of 1969
After four years of watching the dizzying ascension of barrier-breaking prep pole vaulter Armand Duplantis to heights of 19 feet and beyond, track and field fans might be surprised to learn that “Mondo” wasn’t the first to hold his own against the elites as a schoolboy. In fact, in 1968, Casey Carrigan became the first and only high schooler to make a U.S. Olympic team – and broke barriers of his own along the way: While a junior at Orting (Wa.) High School, he became the first prep over 17 feet.
Carrigan began vaulting in fifth grade with his brothers in a backyard wood chip pit, three years before fiberglass poles were invented. As a frosh in 1966, he was already a state champion in Washington with a best of 14-6 ¼. A year later, the self-coached Carrigan not only defended his title, but led the nation’s high schoolers with a best of 15-8. As 1968 dawned, Olympic dreams may have still seemed a long way off, but Carrigan blasted through the 16 foot barrier and never looked back.
At what was then the Olympic Semi-Trials, Carrigan cleared just 15-11 ½, but in the Final Trials he rocked over 17 feet for the first time – good for third place behind world-record setter Bob Seagren and a ticket to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Carrigan didn’t make the Final in the Games – heartbreakingly disqualified during a certain career-best jump where his pole broke the plane of crossbar and uprights – but he still made history just by making the team.
In 1969, Carrigan made sure his senior year wasn’t anti-climactic. He improved the national prep record to 17-0 ½ and then eventually 17-4 ¾ — a standard that lasted 11 years and is still the Washington state record. He was 3rd in the AAU Senior meet, competed internationally for Team USA and ranked #6 in the world.
Carrigan moved on to Stanford and tied for 4th in the 1970 NCAAs. He would later decide he needed a break from the sport and missed trying for the ’72 Olympic team, but came back to become the #4 vaulter in the world in ’74 and then set his lifetime PR in ’75 with 17-10 ½. Beyond sports, Carrigan’s sense of daring paid off with a long, satisfying career as a firefighter and department captain.
Did You Know?
Casey Carrigan’s prep best in the pole vault of 17-4 3/4 from 1969 is — at nearly 50 years old — the oldest state meet record on the books in Washington.