Despite Falling Short of Olympic Dream in Pole Vault, PU Grad Bragg Plans to Soar on the Professional Level
SOMETHING TO BRAG ABOUT: Recently graduated Princeton University track star Adam Bragg waves to the crowd after earning first-team All-American honors when he took 17th at the pole vault in the NCAA Championships last month in Eugene, Ore. Last weekend, Bragg returned to Eugene to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, where he narrowly missed making the pole vault final. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
As a child growing up in Southern California, Adam Bragg flew high in the trampoline.
Taking up the sport as a three-year-old tagging along at the gym with his older sister, a serious gymnast, Bragg became a national level competitor in the sport, even making it to the international stage.
But realizing that there was no future in trampoline at the college level, Bragg took up the pole vault in eighth grade.
“I knew I could transfer some of the air awareness and body awareness from the trampoline over into the pole vault and that would be useful there,” said Bragg, who started working with the Victory Athletics Pole Vault Club and coach B.J. Vandrovec.
“I would say the hardest obstacle to overcome for me was the initial takeoff with the pole because once I am in the air, that is natural due to my trampoline background. Everything else was sort of a learning process.”
Bragg proved to be a quick learner, taking third in the state as a junior and a senior at El Toro High. Connecting with Princeton University men’s track coach Fred Samara early in the recruiting process, Bragg headed to New Jersey in 2012 to continue his pole vaulting career with the Tigers.
Continuing to soar, Bragg established himself as one of the best vaulters in program and league history.
At the 2016 Outdoor Heps Bragg cleared an Ivy League record of 18’ 1.75 to win his second consecutive outdoor title and break a league record that stood for 23 years. Bragg also owns the school indoor pole vault record of 17’ 9, which ranks him second all-time in the league. A three-time Ivy League champion in the event, he was second outdoors in 2012 and fourth indoors in 2012.
Bragg capped his Princeton career by taking seventh at the NCAA Championships last month at Eugene, Ore. to earn first-team All-American honors. Last weekend, he returned to Eugene for the U.S. Olympic Trials and narrowly missed making the finals.
For Bragg, his heroics this year stemmed from a combination of regret and hard work.
“I had a lot of lot of potential that I never really tapped into as a junior and I went back and started training harder this summer,” said Bragg.
“I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to show as well as I could have in my junior year. I think it was a combination of both my potential that year and the hard work this summer and over into our season.”
This past February, Bragg showed his potential when he produced a personal best of 18’ 6.50 at the Fasttrack National Invitational.
“That put me as one of top three vaulters in the country,” said Bragg. “I was able to use that mark to qualify for the trials; it was big.”
Another big highlight for Bragg came at the Outdoor Heps when he established a new Ivy record of 18’ 1.75 to win his second consecutive outdoor pole vault title, breaking the mark of 18’1.25 held by Penn’s Mamadou Johnson since the 1990s.
“I think it was a record standing 23 years; we had tried to take shots at the record a couple of times before,” said Bragg.
“It was special to be able to go in there and get the points for the team and then go out there and break the record at the meet where it was set 23 years before.”
While Bragg had hoped to go higher than the 17’4.5 he cleared at the NCAAs to take seventh, he was proud to earn All-American honors in his last competition for the Tigers.
“I was happy to be back in Eugene and competing with Princeton on my chest,” said Bragg.
“I would have liked to have gone in there and performed a little bit better. I was happy for the chance to go out there and do it.”
For Bragg, getting the chance to come east to Princeton proved to be a transformative experience.
“Growth is definitely a good word to use, I came in as a completely different person than I am now,” said Bragg, who was one of the five finalists for the 2016 Roper Award, given to Princeton’s top senior male athlete.
“I think I have become a better person and a better vaulter. I am able to handle a lot more. I have a lot more confidence in myself and my ability to compete. A lot of that has to do with the support that I got from the Princeton athletic program. They really make it a great place to grow.”
Bragg brought confidence coming into the Olympic Trials, where he had a best jump of 17’ 8.5 in the qualifying round last Saturday, unable to clear the 18’ 0.5 needed to make the final.
“I stayed in the time zone and decided to get two weeks of quality training out here and get prepared for the battle,” said Bragg, who trained at his club in the Los Angeles area.
“Jumping in good weather, good conditions, and good environment ensures my confidence and my belief in myself.”
Although Bragg fell short of his Olympic goal, he plans to turn professional, confident that he can fly to the top of the sport.
“One of the interesting things about the pole vault is that because it is such a technical event, you really make your progress later on in your career as you spend more time with it,” said Bragg.
“I am looking forward to really making a push over the next few years and developing as a pole vaulter. I think I have a lot in the tank, I am planning to stay with my club team here, Victory, and with my coach, B.J. Vandrovec. I have spent so much time with him, starting from 8th grade. He has really seen me grow as an athlete, you can’t put a value on that type of experience.”