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After coming to the UW from Scotland, sophomore Jax Thoirs has emerged as a top-flight pole vaulter for the Huskies. He is the fifth Husky to ever vault higher than 18 feet.

Photo by Anastasia Stepankowsky

Jax Thoirs has come a long way to be where he is today at Washington: 4,438 miles, to be exact. But the Scottish sophomore pole vaulter is unfazed.

“I love it here,” Thoirs said. “I can’t really pinpoint it, but there’s just a different atmosphere.”

Don’t mistake that as a slight to his native Glasgow, Scotland. Thoirs, who has taken the UW indoor track and field team by storm since arriving from across the pond, iterated that he loves his home country and is eagerly anticipating the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, in which he will represent Scotland in the pole vaulting competition.

“To jump with a Scottish jersey on, in my home city — it’s going to be awesome,” Thoirs said.

But why come all the way to Seattle to pole vault?

Once his high-school coach in Scotland left the country for another job, Thoirs started looking at schools in the United States, and he knew the UW had a great pole vaulting coach waiting in Montlake.

That coach would be Pat Licari, who, in 17 years at the UW, has established himself as one of the most respected and regarded pole vaulting coaches in the nation. Eleven All-Americans, five Pac-12 champions, three NCAA Champions, and two-time Olympian Brad Walker, who Thoirs said was an inspiration for him, have competed under Licari in his time at the UW.

In Thoirs, Licari sees someone with unlimited potential.

“He’s doing an awesome job,” Licari said. “He’s ranked really high in the nation right now, and his potential to jump higher and higher will allow him to do really well at the NCAAs.”

In just more than a year in the United States, Thoirs has emerged as one of the premier pole vaulters in the Pac-12. He became the fifth Husky ever to vault higher than 18 feet, as he did in Finland last season.

That isn’t a surprise to anyone familiar with Thoirs, who qualified for the European under-23 team representing Great Britain last season.

“The first time we looked at film of this kid, we thought, ‘Oh my, this kid is full of potential,’” head coach Greg Metcalf said.

While pole vaulting comes naturally to Thoirs these days, it was his experience in gymnastics that led to his success in the pole vault.

“With pole vaulting, [gymnastics] helps a lot with awareness,” Thoirs said. “Doing stuff with the high bar and the rings, I can feel where I am at while vaulting.”

From a physical standpoint, Thoirs said the focus on conditioning in gymnastics keeps the body in shape, and its rigor helps to build the muscle necessary for a strength-focused sport like pole vaulting. At 6-foot-5, Thoirs’ height led to his departure from gymnastics, a blessing in disguise for the UW.

But gymnastics isn’t the only thing that has helped Thoirs become the elite pole vaulter he is today, as genes may have played a role as well. His father, Brian, played soccer as a youth, and his mother, Alison, was on both the track and ski team at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. 

During his time as a Husky, Thoirs has continued to increase the Scottish national record, which he holds, and while he admits pole vaulting in Scotland is still a developing sport, he takes the utmost pride in being the top Scot.

“To be the highest ever for your country,” Thoirs said with an emerging grin. “It’s pretty cool.” 

Thoirs hopes that by the time he graduates from the UW, ideally with a sociology degree, he will not only remain the Scottish national record holder but that he will also have an NCAA championship to his name.

“Indoors or outdoors, one would be enough,” Thoirs said.

But knowing Thoirs, he might just win two or three.

Reach reporter Brent Parker at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @bparker17

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