The first year the Kansas Relays featured women's pole vaulting, Stacy Dragila was just 25 years old, a puppy to professional pole-vaulting with unimaginably successful years ahead of her.
Dragila came to Lawrence and vaulted 13-feet, 91/4-inches that day, which set an American record -- a perfect way to start the event at the Kansas Relays.
Now 34, Dragila is back in town, hoping to provide more fireworks Saturday when she competes in the event she christened nine years ago.
"I thought it was about time to come back," Dragila said. "I'm really excited that they invited me."
Since her first Relays, Dragila has enjoyed unparalleled success in the track-and-field world. That same year, she won both the U.S. Indoor and Outdoor titles, the start of a 16-title run that's still going strong. In addition, Dragila held the world record for years and still holds the American record in the vault with a leap of 15-91/4, set in 2001.
As for her Olympic appearances, she only has had two. Women's pole vaulting wasn't an Olympic sport until the 2000 Sydney Games, and Dragila cleared 15-1 to claim the inaugural gold. At the Athens Games last year, Dragila failed to make the finals, one of the Olympics' biggest surprises.
Dragila will compete in the Gold Zone invitational pole vault event at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, vaulting against Kansas University vaulters Amy Linnen and Kate Sultanova, Kansas State vaulter Breanna Eveland and unattached vaulter April Steiner.
Dragila is shooting to represent the U.S. at the World Championships in August in Helsinki -- a meet she already has won twice (1999 and 2001). The Relays is her first outdoor competition of the year, and, as a result, is a pretty important first step.
"I typically don't open in April," Dragila said. "I typically open at the Modesto Relays (in May). But I think it's good to get the cobwebs out and get the pregame jitters away. It's going to be a fun atmosphere. All track athletes want to support meets in the U.S."