BLOOMINGTON — Eleven days after pole vaulting to a silver medal in the IAAF World U20 Championships at Tampere, Finland, Zachery Bradford is back home in Bloomington with his feet on the ground and his eyes on the future.
The thrill of equaling his lifetime best of 18 feet, 2½ inches has yet to diminish for the three-time state champion, who was accompanied on his 10-day Scandinavian adventure by his parents, Jason and Joy, and brother, Steven.
"I couldn't have asked for any more," said Bradford, who beat everyone except world junior record holder Armand "Mondo" Duplantis, a native of Lafayette, La., who competes for Sweden internationally.
Duplantis, whose best is 19-5½, won at 19-1¼. His superiority over those his age hasn't adversely impacted Bradford's outlook.
"You can't change how people perform," Bradford said. "It's always just you against the bar. For him being able to do the things he does is amazing for him and being a runner-up to him is amazing."
Duplantis' father, Greg, was a world class vaulter, topping out at 19-0¼. Duplantis' Swedish mother, Helena, is a former heptathlete. Their son started vaulting at age 4.
"He's got about four more years of experience under his belt (than me)," Bradford said. "He just knows how to work around those poles. Any struggle that's thrown at him, he can get around it."
Duplantis has declined offers to turn pro so he can compete for Louisiana State University.
"I think it's a smart decision to have that college experience," said Bradford, a Kansas recruit. "I don't know how many years he'll do it."
Bradford doesn't try to copy Duplantis.
"It's kind of hard to copy someone else in a vault," he said. "There are so many other ways to do it. I'll just keep doing my thing."
His "thing" features remarkable consistency. In Finland, Bradford made first-attempt clearances at his first four heights before needing three attempts to get over 18-2½.
"It's just figuring out what poles to use for what heights in practice and working on those poles more and more so you become comfortable with the heights and able to make those first attempts," he said.
A common problem for vaulters is missing three times at an opening height. Bradford hasn't had a "no height" since a 2017 meet in California.
Bradford, who took nine poles to Finland, went out at 18-4½, but looking back, he thinks switching from a pole 16-1 in length to one 16-5 might have helped.
Bradford's father has been his primary coach, but Bethel College assistant Danny Wilkerson was brought in this summer. Based in South Bend, Ind., Wilkerson has helped many top vaulters including Mark Hollis and Mary Saxer.
"He's found every little cue to help me jump higher and be more consistent," Bradford said. "It's minor things, which in the vault, make major differences."
Wilkerson has known Bradford for 10 years.
"The foundation of what they had in place was already really good," Wilkerson said. "There was just some minor stuff (to fix). The biggest was just trying to get a better postural position at takeoff."
Wilkerson also has emphasized Bradford's need to stay connected to the pole longer in the second half of the jump.
"He picked up some cues and listened well and, luckily, it just kind of clicked," Wilkerson said. "I wish we'd had a little bit more time. I do think he could have gone a lot higher."
Wilkerson was especially impressed with Bradford's composure at the World Championships.
"He looked like a seasoned veteran even though this was the first time he's been able to do anything like this," Wilkerson said. "It was a joy to watch as much as help."
Wilkerson predicts the best is yet to come.
"I can see him jumping almost 18-8 next year," Wilkerson said. "That wouldn't surprise me at all. The entire sport is about how fast you are running and how well you connect to the biggest pole you can possibly be on safely. I don't see him slowing down anytime soon."