With his wife by his side and his dog in his lap, Bob Richards sat on a couch in the Zero G Elite Pole Vault Club that’s on his ranch in Waco.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist watched as his son, Brandon, coached his grandson Riley – a senior at China Spring – in preparation for this weekend’s state meet in Austin.
Until he could even begin to talk about Riley’s career, Bob had to go back to where it all started – when he was 13-years old and jumping six feet with a steel pole. He never dreamed about what would come next.
But when it comes to seeing Riley’s potential, it’s as clear as can be for Bob.
“He’s jumped 17-3,” Bob said. “In that pole is another two feet. Riley can jump 19. You’re looking at a potential Olympic champion.”
Riley doesn’t shy away from those big dreams. He only dreams big dreams.
And he’s set those dreams based on what his father, Brandon, has accomplished.
Brandon held the high school world record at 18-2 for 14 years (1984-98).
And with one final outdoor meet in his high school career, Riley’s hoping for – a gold, of course – but also a vault of 18-3.
“It would be awesome to break Eric Esbach’s state record of 18-2,” Riley said. “Eric Esbach is the athlete who broke my dad’s record in high school. We’ve got to get the Richards name back on top.”
While Riley has yet to best his father outdoors, he did top Brandon’s mark of 17-6 indoors earlier this year.
At the Texas A&M High School Indoor Classic on Jan. 7, Riley set a meet record and a new personal best by clearing 17-7.
“I’ve been telling him, ‘Riley, you can break all my records,’” Brandon said. “We use those as goals to try and achieve. I jumped 17-6 as a high school senior and he came along earlier this year at Texas A&M track classic and jumped 17-7. He beat me by one inch. It was a great feeling to see him do that.”
Not only did Riley beat his father’s record, but he also topped the previous meet record held by Canada’s Shawn Barber, the reigning pole vault world champion.
“It was incredible,” Riley said. “It was very special to me and my family.”
Riley loves to hear his grandpa talk about the time when he went for the world record.
And how he almost cut off his thumb.
“He was all the way over,” Riley said. “This, by the way, was 15-9 on steel. It was really impressive. He was all the way over the bar and then he barely knocked over the crossbar with his thumb. For months he contemplated cutting off the thumb that knocked the cross bar off. He’s been so inspirational and so supportive of me.”
While Riley recounted this story with a smile, his thumb was wrapped.
And he laughed when he was asked if he tried to be like his grandpa.
Riley broke his thumb at the area meet before he took one jump to win regionals.
Now he’s ready to continue the family legacy in the sport his grandfather passed down to his father and his father passed down to him.
Brandon suggested he try track and field in the seventh grade.
“He said I might like it,” Riley said. “I went out and tried pole vault one day in seventh grade and fell in love with it. It just came naturally to me.”
Of course it did. It’s in his blood.
“I’ve always been influenced having a two-time gold medalist as a grandfather and a high school national record holder as a dad,” Riley said. “It’s hard not to fall in love with it. They’ve always been so supportive of me.”
A year after he started to pole vault, Riley jumped 14-6 as an eighth grader.
As a freshman, he bested that mark by more than a foot.
Riley was the state runner-up as a sophomore before he won the title as a junior last year.
“For a father who in the past pole vaulted and had a lot of success doing it, to see my son come along and have success with it, it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Brandon said. “It’s been a dream come true. I’m very proud of him.”
Bob nudged those sitting by him as Riley stepped onto the runway.
He never took his eyes off his grandson until he clapped and cheered once Riley vaulted over the bar and landed onto the mat.
Bob sat there for a minute before saying, “Riley is more from his dad than from me. Brandon was phenomenal in high school. He’s transmitted all of his skills to Riley.”
This won’t end after this weekend’s UIL state track meet.
Riley signed with Baylor back in November where Brandon coaches pole vault.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Brandon said. “It’s a rare deal to have a coach-athlete father-son relationship at a Division I school. We get along great. We always have. I think it’s going to be a fun, fun time for both of us.”
The next goal on the agenda for Riley is to break the family record.
Bob jumped a 15-9.
Brandon’s best was 18-4.
“If we can get Riley to 18-5, he’ll have all of us beat,” Brandon said with a smile.
But as usual, Riley’s dreams don’t end there.
“My grandpa’s the only person in the history of pole vaulting to win two gold medals in the Olympic games,” Riley said. “It’d be really cool for me to do that as well.”
As Riley continued to work with Brandon coaching him every step of the way, Bob could only shake his head.
“Pole vaulting made me,” he said. “It made my son. It’s going to make Riley. It’s quite a story. I didn’t ever think it would explode like this.”