Brighton’s 16-foot pole vaulter may have decathlon future at Michigan
Brighton senior Liam Kinney qualified for the state track and field meet in both hurdles events, but he didn’t run those races so he could invest all his energy into pole vault.
It worked out well, as he finished second in Division 1 while becoming only the second Livingston County athlete to clear 16 feet.
Hmmmm. State-qualifying hurdler. All-state pole vaulter.
Sounds like the makings of a decathlete, doesn’t it?
That might be the thinking of University of Michigan coaches when they recruited Kinney primarily as a pole vaulter, but with the possibility of being a multi-event athlete.
It’s a challenge that intrigues Kinney, who has been chosen Livingston County boys track and field athlete of the year by the Livingston Daily.
“I wouldn’t mind doing decathlon,” he said. “I like the opportunity to just try out new things. I’ve already tried a lot of different events. I’ve tried throws before, I’ve done long jump, high jump. It feels like there would always be something to keep me interested, especially since I’m practicing alongside really good athletes, as well, the best at their events. I feel like they would push me to compete with them, even if they’re not doing decathlon.”
That’s a decision to be made down the road. It was Kinney’s ability in pole vault that landed him a roster spot at Michigan, which he planned to attend anyway to study engineering.
When he cleared 16 feet at the state Division 1 finals June 3 in Rockford to finish second on misses to Saline senior Dolan Gonzalez, Michigan’s coaches were convinced he belonged on their team.
“It was a pretty big (personal record),” Kinney said. “The Michigan coaches were there to watch me and I got to talk to them afterward, as well. They called me a week ago and said this secured my roster spot for Michigan either for decathlon or pole vault.”
Kinney was proactive in his recruitment, contacting Michigan’s coaches after placing third in the state indoor meet Feb. 26 with a vault of 15 feet. He was invited for an informal visit to watch practice and meet the coaches.
As the spring season went on, Kinney began to feel more confident he could secure a spot with the Wolverines.
“My thought was, hey, if I didn’t get in the first year, I could keep on training and see if I can get in another year,” he said. “It’s going to be a little stressful, because I’m going to be doing engineering and track. Athletics have been a big part of my life. I like keeping athletics and school balance. It helps level out my life.”
Kinney hurdled in middle school, but didn’t begin pole vault until 10th grade because his freshman year was wiped out by the COVID shutdowns. His best vault was only 10 feet as a sophomore, but he was clearing 12 feet to begin his junior year and won the KLAA and regional championships. He cleared a school-record 14-2 at regionals.
Kinney came into pole vaulting after seven or eight years of competing in gymnastics. At 6-foot-2, he literally outgrew the sport.
“I was a little tall for gymnastics, so I started losing passion there,” he said. “I thought pole vault was a good way to translate all the stuff I did in gymnastics into something new.”
And what’s the feeling like soaring over the bar?
“It’s just fun,” he said. “The higher you go, the more fun it feels. It’s like a rollercoaster.”
Kinney continued to excel in hurdles, even though he spent little time practicing them. He doubled up in the 110-meter highs and 300 hurdles only three times for dual meets in April until doing both events in addition to pole vault at regionals.
He won the regional championship in the 300 hurdles in 39.84 seconds and was second in the 110 highs in 15.07, both personal bests. The 26 points he scored that day helped Brighton win the second regional championship in program history.
“With him, we went back and forth between focusing on pole vault for regionals or focusing on the team part of it,” Brighton coach Amanda Bell said. “I kind of left it to him. He came to me and said, ‘I want to help the team.’ I told him, ‘Honestly, we have a really good chance of being regional champions.’
“He’s very mathematical in his brain. He was like, ‘You’re right, coach. We really do have a chance, but I have to do hurdles.’ He went out and scored. That was just solely on athletic talent.”
Contact Bill Khan at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.