72-Year-Old Pole Vaulter Trains Michigan Olympic Hopefuls and Still Competes

Howard Booth is a two-time world pole vault champion who hopes his students will travel to Rio in August.

Jake Neher/WDET

The Summer Olympic Games in Rio are just around the corner. Some athletes are expressing concerns about traveling to the region amid pollution problems, an economic crisis, and the Zika virus outbreak.

But others, including some from Michigan, are fighting for the chance to represent their country as Olympians. Howard Booth is training some of those athletes. He’s a 72-year-old pole vaulter, a two-time world champion, who still competes himself. He’ll be competing in the Meijer State Games of Michigan, which begin on Friday in Plainfield Township.

“It’s a passion,” Booth tells Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson. “It’s something I actually did in high school and college, then took 40 years off as a distance runner… and then got back into about 12 years ago and have gone all the way to the top. I’m having a good time with it.”

Booth will also participate in long-jump events, and run sprints and hurdles during the Meijer Games, “depending on what I have time for,” he says.

He’s helping train two Olympic hopefuls from Eastern Michigan University; track and field athlete Solomon Simmons and pole vaulter Max Babits.

Booth taught physiology at EMU for 47 years, and has done research in physiology of pole vaulters. He speaks about the importance of staying active and fit into old age.

Even for college athletes, “if you stay with it your whole life, 40 years after your college peak, you retain 80 percent of your ability to do athletics,” he says. “If not, you lose 80 percent.”

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio player above.