June 10, 2002
Stanford, Ca - Michael Ponikvar is an avid believer in higher education. Aside from his success in the classroom (Biological Sciences major and an Academic All-Pac-10 selection three times), Ponikvar is one of the nation's top high jumpers, and thus higher education on the track is measured in success that has earned him three Pac-10 Championships.
Ponikvar recently took his talents to LSU's Bernie Moore Stadium on Saturday in the high jump at the NCAA's. Ponikvar had achieved a season-best of 7-2 1/2, which ranked him seventh in the nation in 2002. That is a distinction which would assure him of All-America status, but the junior from Canada had higher goals in mind. Ponikvar jumped 7-4 1/2 to tie the national champion (Tora Harris of Princeton), but Harris was awarded the victory on fewer misses. Ponikvar settled for third place, but another All-America honor.
"The season, right from the start has been strong and consistent," said Ponikvar. "I want to carry it right to the end ... keep on the same path."
On May 19, Ponikvar became the first Stanford high jumper in recent history to win a third conference title. Ponikvar achieved first place honors in 1999, 2001 and 2002. His career-best of 7-4 1/2 at the Pac-10 meet last year and again this year at the NCAA's is second-best all-time in Stanford history. That's quite an achievement for someone growing up St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, a medium-sized city 90 minutes from Toronto, where hockey is the nation's game and passion. However, for Ponikvar, basketball and ski racing took center stage growing up. That dominated his time until he became a freshman in high school.
"I was playing basketball, and a coach told me to try the high jump," said Ponikvar, who graduated from Denis Morris High School. "I wasn't very good my freshman year in high school, but I went to a couple meets, and a coach (Canadian Olympic coach) and asked me if I wanted to train to be a high jumper. I wasn't a strong high jumper, but that was my motivation back in those days ... to be better. I started training with coach, and things started to click on the good side."
With high jump now is primary sport, his basketball career ended. "Basketball is an American game. I think Canadians should stick to hockey. I don't think I have enough weight to play basketball. I think I'm tall enough and can jump, but some of those basketball guys are big guys."
Because of his height, Ponikvar was to tall to be a hockey player, although he keeps close tabs on the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.
His success in the high jump in high school was dramatic. His high school accolades included winning the gold medal at the 1997 Junior Pan American Championships (7-4 1/2), establishing a Canadian high school record and earning a state championship.
Ponikvar had a keen interest in attending an American University to further his athletic and academic career.
"I always thought about going to school in the United States," said Ponikvar, who has plans to attend medical school in the future. "It's very difficult for a Canadian to go to a school in the United States. But it had always been a dream of mine. A lot of kids dream of it but they know its very competitive."
Ponikvar called Stanford and asked if he could be considered for enrollment. Stanford looked at what he had accomplished in high school, how old he was, and asked about his grades. The match made perfect sense. Ponikvar and Stanford would be a great fit.
"Attending Stanford was a big change for me," admits Ponikvar. "I can't even describe it. Here at Stanford, we have this beautiful outdoor facility with great weather, great people and a strong academic program. Back home, I had to travel 90 minutes to Toronto to train because we had no outdoor track. Being 3,000 miles away from home (Toronto to Stanford) took me a little while to adjust, but it's been great."
Ponikvar has dreams of being a member of the Canadian Olympic Team in 2004. He redshirted during the 2000 season at Stanford to train for the Olympics, but injuries denied him a trip to Sydney.
"There is a motivation to make the Canadian Olympic Team," said Ponikvar. "There is a fine line between dedication and obsession. I think I might have crossed the line working a little too hard and ended up getting hurt. Coming so close to the Olympics, but getting hurt was a learning experience. My new philosophy is to train smarter not harder."
In the meantime, competing for Stanford, and achieving success in the Pac-10 and the NCAA's is a strong motivation.
"Things are going really well. Winning three Pac-10 championships has been exciting, and now I would like to take the next step and win a national championship some day. That would be nice."