WATCH: 'Everything is coming together'; Grand Forks pole vaulter Jak Urlacher hitting his stride with Gophers

The Grand Forks Central grad gave up gymnastics and broke the North Dakota high school pole vault record in 2021. Now, he's putting up big numbers as a sophomore at the University of Minnesota

Grand Forks Central's Jak Urlacher lifts himself to a state record in the boys Class A pole vault during the North Dakota state track meet on Saturday, May 29, 2021, in Bismarck. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MINNEAPOLIS — We have been following the story of Minnesota Gopher pole vaulter Jak Urlacher since he was a freshman in high school. In fact, the first time we talked to Urlacher, it was five years ago this month, when the Grand Forks native was getting ready for a trip to nationals in gymnastics.

"I was dead set on being a Division I gymnast in eighth grade," Urlacher said. "But I’ve discovered I’m just more talented in pole vault."

Spoiler alert: He was right. Urlacher said he decided to focus on pole vault his junior year of high school only to see that season canceled by COVID-19. One season later, Urlacher set the North Dakota state pole vault record as a senior at Grand Forks Central.

"My coach in high school knew I was in gymnastics for so long so he knew I would be a good pole vaulter," Urlacher said. "It's naturally what I gravitated toward."

Then it was off to Minnesota where a hamstring injury limited his freshman year.


"I would say that freshman year of college was definitely a difficult year, but I’m glad I got through it well," Urlacher said.

This season Urlacher said it’s all coming together. He’s already over the 18-foot mark, good for a top-20 spot in the nation.

"Keep an eye on him. I think he’s going to put on a good show here the next couple years," said Minnesota assistant track and field coach Caroline White.

Urlacher said this year is all about combining his athleticism with technique that just keeps getting better.

"That’s also one of the exciting things about jack is he’s jumped as high as he has with the technique that he has. There’s a lot of things left to fix," White said. "It's really exciting to have someone that really I don't see a ceiling for. That doesn’t come around that often."

White says the former Grand Forks gymnastics phenom has the potential to develop into a top-level pole vaulter, but Jak isn’t setting the bar too high just yet.

"Right now I'm looking for 18'5" for short term," Urlacher said. "Long term I honestly don’t know. I’ll see where I go from there."

Cullen Holt is a sports anchor and reporter for WDAY News, while handling play-by-play duties for high school and select college sports.
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