PROVO When Robbie Pratt and Trent Powell first met each other as junior competitors in the 1997 Pan-American Games, neither had any idea their paths would cross someday at BYU.
Based on their backgrounds, the two are an unlikely pair. Powell is a native of Rexburg, Idaho, who transferred to BYU from Paradise Valley Community College in Arizona and operates his own auto shop. Pratt was born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Mexico and competed in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games for Mexico before coming to Provo and teaching at the Missionary Training Center.
There's also the difference of 18 months in age, eight inches of height and about 40 pounds.
But for the last three years, Powell and Pratt have worked as teammates toward the same goal of becoming a national champion this week at the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif.
"I didn't do as well as I should have (last year) coming off surgery, and I could always say I have next year, but this year I don't," said Powell, a senior and three-time All-American. "It's made it more of a priority to practice this year. This is my last year, and I gotta make it count."
In 2003, Powell placed third at the Indoor National Championships and was the runner-up in the outdoor season. Having to battle through six dislocated shoulder injuries, he said placing second was an achievement that meant a lot to him, but one he feels he can improve on.
"I expect to be an All-American," he said. "That's expected of me because I've done it and I know what it takes to do it, so I'm going for the gold. It's within my grasp."
Pratt matched his teammate's performance in 2004 at the indoor nationals for a ninth-place finish and earned his first All-American honor earlier this season. Despite being an Olympic semifinalist before coming to BYU, he said becoming an NCAA champion would be a more significant accomplishment.
"It's getting more and more exciting for me," Pratt, a junior, said of competing at the college level. "My first year I was just going through the motions, but nationals have come to mean a lot to me personally, as have the conference and regional meets."
Learning to jump on his father's farm with old equipment purchased from BYU, Pratt said he knew early in his life he would be an Olympian. Since most vaulters don't peak until their early 30s, both are hopefuls for the 2008 Games, but would not be teammates since Pratt will return to the Mexican National Team. Powell, who used to train with 2000 Olympic gold medalist Nick Hysong at PVCC, plans to be in Provo for at least another year and hopes to continue training with his partner.
"In a championship setting, there's a lot you have to rely on experience," Pratt said. "The more you have, the better off you are, so that's helped me this year improving on mistakes from the past."
Along with coach Larry Berryhill, Pratt and Powell said having a teammate to critique and push them on a weekly basis gives them a big advantage over the competition, especially toward the end of the outdoor season as the number of athletes to train alongside slowly diminishes.
"I don't have to leave my track to find guys to motivate me to jump high," Pratt said. "When you're out here doing strides and you watch your teammate jump 18 feet 6 inches in practice, it's like, 'Holy smokes, I have to get going.' "
Said Powell: "If Robbie ever gets his speed and a plant with his height, he's going to be dangerous. He's always had a pretty positive attitude. No matter how good the guys are ahead of him, he knows he's going to win."
With only one meet remaining to compete as teammates and a number of the NCAA's top vaulters unable to reach nationals, the possibility of finishing one-two atop the podium is even more likely this week. Pratt has the nation's best vault this season, while Powell has the fifth-highest mark.
Similar to many other weekends, the two shared the NCAA West Region title two weeks ago and said they wouldn't mind having to do the same at the NCAAs.
"We've never had two 18-foot pole vaulters," said BYU men's coach Mark Robison. "We count our blessings if we have one. It's something we may never ever be able to do again."