POCATELLO - Nico Weiler' bounced up off the pole vault mat, smiling and waving at the raucous Holt Arena crowd. American pole vault legend Pat Manson waited on the runway for Weiler' to get back on his feet and then swallowed him up with a hearty embrace.
No, Weiler' didn't break Manson's long-standing Simplot Games record in the event Saturday, but nobody seemed to care. ''He's such a nice kid,'' Manson said. ''He's humble. He's polite. We welcome him to the pole vault family because he's just one of those great guys you want in there.''
Weiler' also has earned his way into the vaulting fraternity with a series of spectacular jumps over the last two years. A senior at Los Gatos High in California, Weiler' entered the Simplot Games as an overwhelming favorite after he cleared 17 feet, 2 inches for the best boys' mark this season. Weiler' capped off the final day of the Simplot Games by skying to an identical height for the pole vault crown Saturday. He then got the fans on their feet by attempting a jump of 17-7 - three-quarters of an inch higher than Manson's 22-year-old Games record - but fell short on his three attempts.
''I would have liked to see him go over the record,'' said Weiler's coach, Brandon Vance. ''Nico's a very good young man. I would be really excited for him.'' Weiler' came excruciatingly close to topping the mark on his first attempt, springing his body over the bar but clipping it with his right elbow. His two other jumps were a little lower.
But Weiler' wasn't feeling the least bit demoralized - it seems like just a matter of time before he claims the mark for his own. At the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nev., last month, the native of Germany also came millimeters from clearing a jump of 17-7, which would have given him the national high school record. Manson predicted the record will belong to Weiler' by the end of this season.
''He basically made it three times and then just bumped into something and it fell,'' Manson said of Weiler's jumps Saturday. ''I'm happy for him. He's such a great kid.'' Weiler' began pole vaulting as an 11-year-old in the small town of Pliezhausen, Germany. His brother, who is three years older, had just taken up the decathlon, and the younger Weiler' found himself intruigued by the spectacle of a vaulter soaring through the air.
At the age of 16, Weiler' decided to leave his close-knit hometown for Los Gatos to pursue his athletic aspirations. He made his mark on the pole vaulting community his junior year, skying over a height of 17-6 1/4 for his personal best. But the Los Gatos coaching staff loved how he never developed any sort of swagger despite the success.
''He never acts like anything is beneath him,'' Vance said. ''For a coach, that's a really pleasurable thing to be a part of.'' Weiler' also has endeared himself to his host family and newfound friends more because of his gregarious personality. Vance said he's never once heard a complaint from Weiler's hosts, Jack and Suzanne Little, and Weiler' also admits he has little to complain about the way his adopted community has treated him.
''They're just great people,'' Weiler' said. ''I've had a lot of fun with them. It couldn't have worked out any better. We're just like a real family now.''
Weiler' has had to make sacrifices for the sport, though. He still badly misses his hometown of 12,000, and the one phone call every two weeks that he makes to his family never seems to last long enough.
But vaulting also has given him opportunities he only dreamed about in Germany. The sport has helped him earn scholarship offers to schools like Cal-Berkeley and Brigham Young University, and of course, the affection of pretty much everyone in his adopted country who has gotten to know him.
''He doesn't see it that he should be given anything,'' Vance said. ''He's so humble and courteous, and that's really nice.''