Garrett Brown wants to keep raising the bar

March 5, 2024, 11:27 p.m.

Garrett Brown did not expect to clear a lifetime best height on Jan. 20. 

The junior pole vaulter’s warmups had not gone as well as he had hoped, and it had been almost a year since his last personal record (PR). By now, Brown appreciates that records in the event can come in quick succession, yet also very far apart. 

But that variability is one of the reasons why Brown loves the pole vault. Each attempt necessitates a number of tactical calls, ranging from pole selection to positioning of the standards holding the bar to where on the runway he begins his approach. If even one of those choices is off, a technically solid jump can still result in a miss.

The two-time All-American’s favorite analogy for describing his sport is the game of darts. “If you throw enough darts,” Brown said, “one of those days, everything’s gonna line up and you’re gonna hit a bull’s eye.”

Jan. 20 was one of those days, when the countless practice jumps, strategic decisions and muscle memory all aligned at the right time. Brown only needed one try to clear each of the first five heights he attempted. Having qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships, he then pushed on to clear a new PR at 5.57 meters (18-3 ¼), further solidifying his place at No. 3 in the school record books and demonstrating early in the season his intentions for an eventful 2024. 

Growing up in Carlsbad, Calif., Brown tried a number of sports — the most unorthodox of which included parkour and freerunning — before landing on pole vault in large part due to a family legacy. His father and older brother both vaulted collegiately at UCLA, and from eighth grade onward, Brown was hooked. 

When a local college decided to upgrade their old pole vaulting pit, Brown’s dad offered to take the setup off their hands and relocated it to the family’s property. Though the space only allowed for a short runway, it meant that Brown literally grew up with the sport in his backyard.

The importance of reps became even more pressing during the COVID-19 pandemic. As facilities shut down, making practice difficult, Brown was in the middle of the college recruiting process.

“He would be sharing and sending me some videos of him practicing in his backyard on some very sketchy setups,” said Arthur “Iggy” Ignaczak, Stanford’s jumps, pole vault and multis coach. “Literally, the standards were two other poles holding up a bungie.” But for Ignaczak, this underscored how much Brown, the third-ranked recruit nationally, cared about the sport and improving despite extenuating circumstances.

In his first year on the Farm, Brown broke the Stanford freshman pole vault record. The summer after freshman year, Brown took second at the USATF U20 Outdoor meet before finishing just off the podium in fourth at the World Under-20 Championships. He then had a breakout sophomore season, reaching both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championship meets where he placed eighth and 14th, respectively. 

Brown’s coaches describe him as someone who thrives off of his sport’s volatility and any challenge thrown his way. This competitive drive was what initially led him to pursue other events. In the lead up to last year’s Big Meet against Cal, Jarius Cooper, Stanford’s sprints and hurdles coach, remembers how he and his colleagues were trying to fill in entrants for various events. Brown had demonstrated significant potential in other areas in training, Cooper said, especially considering that he was recruited exclusively as a pole vaulter.

“We needed a hurdler, we’re trying to find somebody to stand in that space and find some points,” said Cooper. “And we literally joked about Garrett doing the hurdles and just practicing a couple of times.”

The then-sophomore was intrigued. He offered Cooper a bet: If he completed the 110-meter hurdles in under 15 seconds, Cooper would have to dye his hair.

Brown finished in 14.93 seconds. “For somebody who doesn’t run the event,” Cooper said, “running 14-high is kind of astonishing.”

The result motivated Brown to start playing around with additional disciplines. He had long thought from afar that the multis — competitions consisting of five, seven or 10 disciplines — “seemed pretty fun,” and saw an opportunity in training for seven distinct events to build up his athleticism and endurance for the pole vault. Moreover, Ignaczak believes that trying out other events can help his athletes stay loose in their primary specialties.

It was a nice coincidence, too, that his first heptathlon in early February took place at the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque, N.M., the site of Brown’s last two PRs in the pole vault. The junior has competed well there throughout his collegiate career, something he and Ignaczak attribute to the location’s high altitude and bouncy runway.

“If there was a girlfriend named Albuquerque,” Ignaczak said, “he would probably ask her out immediately, because he loves that place.”

At that venue on Feb. 3, and in a field dominated by Texas standout Leo Neugebauer — the defending NCAA decathlon champion and holder of both the collegiate and German national records in the event — Brown delivered wins in the pole vault and 60-meter hurdles to finish fifth overall with 5370 points, the third-best score in school history.

Cooper was awed by Brown’s ability to quickly pick up and excel at the different disciplines. “I still don’t know if we’ve seen his best hurdling yet,” Cooper said. “So that’s kind of scary.”

But while neither Brown nor Ignaczak shut the door on attempting another multi in the future, they emphasized that — for now — their energies remain on maximizing Brown’s performance in his specialty event. The junior is focused on achieving high placements at the indoor and outdoor NCAA meets, and then hopefully carrying that momentum into June’s Olympic Trials. 

“Everything has kind of been leading up to this indoor meet,” Brown said in mid-February of the Indoor Championships set to begin Friday in Boston, Mass. “I feel like I’m more ready than ever to PR.”

Madeline Grabb '25 is a senior staff writer from Sagaponack, New York who previously served as Sports Managing Editor for Vol. 263. She is studying communication and history. Contact her at sports 'at'

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