Vaulting to the top

By Scott Goode, assistant athletic director for sports information

Freshman pole-vaulter Dorian Chaigneau (pronounced SHIN-yo) describes his arrival on Harding’s campus as “eyes blind.”

Chaigneau is a native of Fontenay-le-Comte, France, a town of 13,000 located in west-central France less than 30 miles from the Bay of Biscay.

At 6 years old, Chaigneau’s parents signed him up for a track and field club in France. The only problem was he really, really hated running. 

Around the age of 10, he arrived at the club and saw some older team members pole vaulting, and his life changed forever.

“I am just too lazy to run,” Chaigneau says. “I saw those guys vaulting, and I went completely crazy about it. I just wanted to jump and jump and jump. The guys made fun of me because I just kept jumping. The coach would get nervous at the end of practice because he wanted to go home. His wife was waiting. He would say, ‘last one, last one,’ but I just kept jumping.”

He continued with his club in France, twice finishing as high as third in competition. But eventually, Chaigneau’s progress at the club began to stall, and he looked for somewhere else to continue his career.

He hired a recruiting agency to help him find a home at an American university. One of the emails the agency sent out landed in the inbox of Harding head coach Don Hood, a nationally respected pole vault coach.

“I reached out to him once and did not hear back from him,” Hood says. “About a month later, I heard back, and we set up a Zoom call. I told him about the strong group of vaulters we had and about our facilities. It was what he wanted, and things moved pretty quickly from there.”

“I came to Harding because the team had a good group of pole vaulters,” Chaigneau says. Five of Harding’s top 10 pole vaulters of all time are currently on the team. “I knew nothing else about the school. I had only seen pictures. But I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’”

Chaigneau knew early on in his time at Harding that his decision to come to America would lead to changes he had hoped for.

“When I got here, it was everything I expected,” Chaigneau says. “My situation in France was not stable. Harding gave stability to my life. I was able to train and study at the same time. I was not able to do that in France.”

It also did not take long for coach Hood to realize that Chaigneau was something special.

“Dorian is super competitive,” Hood says. “He wants to be perfect every time. He wills himself to be great. He still loves to pole vault. He would practice every day if we would let him. He is the perfect mix of athletic ability, competitiveness and the drive to be technically perfect.”

Chaigneau’s impact on the track program was immediate. In his first collegiate indoor meet, he broke Harding’s indoor school record.

“It was cool. I knew it was the school record, but it was not a crazy height,” Chaigneau says. “But for me, it was not (too difficult).”

The record might not have been too much for him, but it had stood at Harding for 32 years. Harding Hall of Famer Jimmy Sloan set the mark at 16-6 in 1989. Chaigneau won the Arkansas Invitational on Jan. 16 by clearing 16-8 3/4 inches (5.10 meters).

His marks continued to improve throughout the indoor season.

On Jan. 22, he cleared 16-10 (5.13 meters) at the Central Missouri meet. On Feb. 28, he became the first Harding athlete ever to clear 17 feet in the pole vault. At a meet in Indianapolis, he soared over the bar at 17-1 3/4 inches (5.23 meters). That vault made him one of the favorites at the NCAA Indoor National Championship.

“Every week, I felt I was better. I used stronger poles and continued to go higher. It was just the (culmination) of a lot of hard work,” Chaigneau says.

Chaigneau was his best on a national stage.

“At nationals, it was really special because I came in with the feeling that I was going to win,” Chaigneau says. “I had no pressure. I was just going to do my job.”

Chaigneau cleared 5.07 meters on his first attempt, then 5.17 meters also on his first attempt. When he cleared 5.27 meters (17-3 1/2 inches) on his first try, the championship was his. Tommy Ansiel of Cedarville also cleared the same height, but Chaigneau won with fewer misses.

“I was really happy. I had never finished first at a national meet,” Chaigneau says. “I was really happy for coach Hood, too. I feel like, for him, it was a really big deal.”

Chaigneau’s success continued outdoors. Not surprisingly, he broke the Harding outdoor record in his first meet, then set a personal best of 5.30 meters (17-4 1/2) in finishing second at the prestigious Texas Relays. Chaigneau won the Great American Conference championship with a conference-record height and was a Second Team All-American at outdoor nationals.

Although Chaigneau came to Harding “blind,” his success has definitely opened people’s eyes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the publishing of the magazine, we have learned Dorian Chaigneau is the Great American Conference Male Athlete of the Year. Read more here.

Categories: Sports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *