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Former Olympian still on top, coaching new athletes

By Lindsey Blakely
On December 5, 2011

Beads of sweat form on his forehead while the rain ruthlessly presses on the athletes in Montreal. He exhales harshly, mentally preparing himself, while clinging to the fiberglass pole.

It's the year 1976 and 20-year-old Early Bell has just made it to his first Olympic appearance as a pole-vaulter for the U.S. team.

Although he had just broken a world record of 18-feet-1/4-inches before coming to the games, Bell said he was relaxed and excited.

"I was one of the favorites that year, " Bell said. "The best part was knowing that everyone was watching me on TV at home. But, it's never as glamorous as you see it on TV."

Only two inches from the winning height, Bell came in sixth that year. But, in the eight hours of rain, no athlete did his best that day.

Bell was a junior at ASU in 1976 and had no idea at that pint that he would qualify for the Olympics three more times and lead one of the longest careers of a male pole-vaulter.

Though he originally attended ASU and planned on earning a degree in accounting with four years, Bell said pole vaulting became his primary concern.

Bell attended ASU until his senior in 1977, when he only needed two courses to graduate. However, those two courses were only offered in the fall, a busy time for Bell.

"I was competing in Europe and it would stretch into September," Bell said. "Two courses? I was traveling and doing what I loved, I didn't want to go back for that."

Bell went back to ASU seven years later to finish those two courses and finally earn his degree in accounting.

In his long career of pole vaulting, Bell was a three-time Olympian, a five-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) record holder and a world record holder. He experienced the 1980 boycott of the Olympics in Moscow when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. He finally went on to wint he bronze medal in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics.

Now, three USA jerseys sit in a framed box on the wall in a jumbled office filled with stacks of papers. A hefty metal building sits near a field in the small town of Cash, Ark. "Bell Athletics" is displayed proudly on the structure which sits in Cash, Ark. with a population of 294 and a distance of 13 miles from Jonesboro.

Bell has taken his accounting degree and turned it into a coaching career in his own business.

Since the opening of Bell Athletics in 1991, he's produced Olympic athletes such as Jeff Hartwig, Derek Miles and former ASU women's pole-vaulter Kellie Suttle.

"They come from all over the country to train here," Bell said. "They are really dedicated."

Bell said that most hopeful Olympians have to train at their local college's facility and it's rough having to work around other coach's schedules. At Bell Athletics, they can train without getting kicked out.

Since becoming a coach, Bell earned the title of National Olympic Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1998, according to arkansasencyclopedia.com

Bell said he doesn't have much free time to have hobbies, because he's doing what he loves.

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