Mitch Greeley was honest about it.
"My goal is to just gain experience," he said by phone earlier this week. "I would love to make the team, but I realize I'm still young at this. I'm just going to try my best."
The former Northwestern-High-School-turned-Clemson star pole vaulter is in Eugene, Ore., today as part of a group trying to make the U.S. Olympic team. Greeley, who's shattered numerous school records during his Tiger tenure, was one of the few collegiate athletes invited and is competing for one of the top four spots in the Olympic trials.
A top-four finish guarantees a trip to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. It'd be a dream come true, but should it not happen, Greeley's content with just coming close.
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"During the Olympic year, everyone comes out and pulls out all the stops," he said. "It's really tough to make the U.S. team."
The preliminary vaults are today and the finals are on Sunday. Greeley hopes to make it to the finals but realizes it will take a superhuman effort to get there.
The U.S. record is 19 feet, 9 3/4 inches, set by defending world champion Brad Walker two weeks ago at the same facility.
Greeley's best leap is 18-3, which he hit in a United States Track and Field sanctioned meet in Columbia in May. He's only cleared 18 feet three times -- all in competition, never in practice -- in his distinguished career.
The 18-3 mark qualified him for an invitation to the Olympic Trials and ranks as one of the top 20 marks among the field of 24 vaulters in Eugene this weekend.
Greeley estimated an 18-8 on the first attempt and perhaps 19 feet as a top mark makes the team. The senior is hoping to at least wipe away some of the sour taste from his last performance, the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
A three-time All-American and ACC champ, Greeley was all set to win that elusive national championship. He easily cleared his only jump in the preliminaries, but couldn't get over his opening height in the finals.
The no-height ended his collegiate career, although Greeley was invited to the Olympic Trials and made the U.S. team for the North America/Central America/Caribbean championships in Mexico in July. Greeley's hoping he can at least show the rest of the field this week that he's better than his NCAA disappointment.
"It's tough knowing I could have been national champion," Greeley said. "Nine times out of 10, I would have won that day. I'm ready to move on."
He'll at least have several supporters in his corner.
Greeley's father, Leland Greeley, left this morning to watch his son compete and he'll be joined by South Pointe track and field coach Bob Jenkins, the man who discovered Greeley just nine years ago and turned him on to pole vaulting. Jenkins is making his trip a family affair, taking three grandsons and two sons-in-law with him.
The group's seats are right above the pole vault pit. It's a fair bet the fans sitting around the Rock Hill contingent will know all about Mitch Greeley when the weekend's over.
"It's just, kind of, we all went along for the ride," said Leland Greeley, describing his son's meteoric rise to the nation's elite. "It's been unbelievable."
Leland and Mitch have been to Oregon before, for a national rock-climbing competition when Mitch was around 13. He finished in the nation's top 15.
Once the pair returned to Rock Hill, Mitch was at the Shiland pool when then-Northwestern coach Jenkins saw him. Jenkins figured the surprisingly muscular teen would be a natural for pole vaulting, although Mitch said he'd never heard of it.
"I suggested he put a pole in his hand, and flip him up in the air and turn upside down," Jenkins said. "He thought I was crazy."
Nine years later, from his first appearance at Northwestern practice where he showed up in corduroy pants, work boots and a flannel shirt, Greeley's trying for a spot in the Olympics. Jenkins, headed to Eugene as part of his involvement with U.S. Track and Field, will watch one his discovered diamonds try to further his elite status.
It's a family reunion of sorts for Jenkins, who traveled to Oregon nearly 30 years ago with his daughter. The tales of the enjoyable time filtered down through the family, to the point where Jenkins' grandson, Robert Locke, wanted to go.
Locke, a rising freshman at South Carolina, will join Will Locke, a USC sophomore, and rising Rock Hill High freshman Robert Wood as Jenkins' grandsons with sons-in-law Kevin Wood and Ron Locke also along. They'll all be in Greeley's corner.
"He's vaulted 18-3, and there's about 10 vaulters who can go 19-plus," Jenkins said. "This is for him to get the feel and the pressure of the trials. My hope is he qualifies for the finals."
No matter what happens this weekend, Greeley's future is set. He'll graduate in December and move to Jonesboro, Ark., for training as a professional pole vaulter with an eye toward the 2012 Olympics. To make the top four this weekend would be incredible, but Greeley won't be too crushed if it doesn't happen.
"I remember seeing 13 feet cleared for the first time, and thought that had to be close to a world record," Greeley joked. "I feel like ignorance is bliss. I've always had a dream of making the Olympic team. But if it doesn't happen now, I'm just thankful for everything that has happened. I'm really proud of what I've done."