Soaring with the Eagles
Oral Roberts University takes pole-vaulting to greater heights.
Joe Dial, ORU track and field coach, works on form with new recruit Dillon Lookout, a 2012 graduate of Jenks High School.
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The motto of the modern Olympics, “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”
Oral Roberts University is doing its best to contribute to the motto’s second element, “Altius,” through its pole-vaulting supremacy.
From the expertise of Joe Dial, head track and field coach and former world record holder, to Jack Whitt, current NCAA pole vault champion, to Dillon Lookout, high school standout and future ORU vaulter, the Golden Eagles should play a prominent role in the event’s advancement.
Whitt, a senior at ORU, won the 2012 national outdoor championship with a vault of 18 feet, 6.5 inches, tying his outdoor personal best. At the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer, Whitt qualified to be an alternate on the Olympic team for the London games this month.
Lookout, a former high school state pole-vaulting champion from Jenks, has signed a national letter of intent to attend ORU on a track scholarship.
As ORU’s coach for 17 years, Dial has enjoyed a level of success few coaches of any sport have experienced.
He is a 16-time Summit League/Mid-Continent Conference Coach of the Year for men’s and women’s track and cross county. His Golden Eagle track teams have been among the best in both the Mid-Continent Conference and the Summit League, earning eight conference team championships in men’s track (seven indoor and one outdoor); eight team championships in women’s track (six indoor and two outdoor); and two conference team championships in women’s cross country.
Coach Joe Dial
Dial got his start in the sport at a young age, thanks to an older sibling.
Older brother Rex Dial, who was a 1969 Oklahoma pole-vault champion, cracked one of his poles in competition and brought the discarded pole home to little brother Joe.
Joe began using the pole in the family’s back yard. After some coaching from his father, Earl Dean Dial, who also had a vaulting background, Joe soon started winning meets and making headlines.
Joe was the national age-group champion at ages 13, 14 and 15. He set the Oklahoma high school record at Marlow High School at 17 feet, 9.5 inches, in 1981.
He later became the first American high school pole-vaulter to clear 18 feet. While at Oklahoma State University, he won six Big 8 pole-vaulting titles.
He traveled around the world to vie against the world’s best. He competed primarily in Europe but also at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Maple Leaf Games in Toronto, in Taiwan and in Tokyo.
“I’ve been to Europe to compete so many times, I quit counting after 30 trips,” Dial says.
He also participated in five Olympic qualifying meets (1980, ’84, ’88, ’92 and ’96), but because of injuries or just plain bad luck, he never made an Olympic team.
An intense student of the sport, in his never-ending quest to gain every possible advantage, Dial and his father inserted lights into the shafts of fiberglass poles to understand how the poles reacted under the pressure of competition.
Dial later even traveled to a pole manufacturing facility in Reno, Nev., so he could personally contribute his expertise as his poles were being built.
“Speed is the key in the vault,” he says. “If you are fast, your potential is huge. Height also helps. The shorter you are, the faster you have to be and the more coordination you must have. Plus, there is a real fear factor to deal with.
“My dad and I worked hard for me to become as good as I was.”
The next generation of Dial pole-vaulters is already on the horizon.
Dial’s son, Tommy, placed sixth in the Class 6A state meet this spring as a freshman at Jenks High School.