By Charles Whisnand
Appeal Sports Editor
The chance to be coached by one of the nation's top pole vault coaches and one of this country's most prominent athletes in the event is what Carson High School graduate Mike Arnold is receiving.
Arnold signed with Idaho State this week to compete in the pole vault in track. Arnold will be coached by Idaho State head coach Dave Nielsen, who's considered one of the top pole vault coaches in the country.
Nielsen also coached former world-record holder Stacy Dragila at Idaho State. Dragila basically put the women's pole vault on the map, going on to establish and re-establish several times the world record and win an Olympic medal in the event while competing for the United States. Arnold will also have a chance to learn from Dragila while at Idaho State.
"I'm really relieved," Arnold said. "It's where I wanted to go. I just don't have to worry about that anymore. I'm looking forward to competing for them."
Arnold said it was flattering to be recruited by Nielsen, calling it "really cool. He's produced a lot of good people. I'm looking forward to him coaching me and progressing me as a vaulter. He saw promise in me."
Nielsen originally offered Arnold a 50-percent scholarship, but upped the offer to 70 percent based on Arnold's development. A 70-percent scholarship is an excellent offer for a track athlete, especially one that specializes in one event.
Arnold went from a vaulter who cleared just 13 feet, 6 inches and failed to advance to the NIAA 4A State Championships as a junior to a state champion this year as a senior for the Senators.
Paul Hegler, who has coached many of Northern Nevada's top high school pole vaulters and helped with Arnold's development, said the disappointment of not making state last year ended up being a turning point.
"You're going to let this destroy you or let it make you great," said Hegler about what he told Arnold last year after he didn't make state. "He just worked his butt off."
"It's a really, really good fit for him," Hegler added about Idaho State. "They've got one of the best coaches in the nation as far as pole vaulters go. It's going to be great for him. I'm real excited for him."
Along with winning the state title, Arnold set the CHS school record by clearing 16-1, becoming one of only a handful of high school vaulters in Nevada history to clear 16-0.
And Arnold isn't done, yet. He will compete on Sunday in the USA Track & Field Junior Olympic National Championships to be held in Omaha, Neb. He qualified for nationals by winning the Western regional event in Livermore, Calif., with a mark of 15-5.
Arnold said he's ready for a breakthrough performance on Sunday. He said in practice he's just brushed the bar while trying to clear 17-0 a couple of times and has cleared 16-9 in practice.
"It's really coming along," Arnold said. "I'm looking for a P.R. (personal record) and maybe a win this weekend."
But Arnold also knows the competition will be tough.
"There's a lot of good competitors that are going," he said.
At Idaho State, Arnold said his goal is to qualify for the NCAA Championships and to clear 18-0 as a freshman. His ultimate goal is to compete in the 2012 Olympics.
"I'm looking at the 2012 games in London," he said. "Qualifying for the Olympics " that would be super exciting. It's like one of my lifetime dreams to go to the Olympics and represent the USA."