Punahou pole vaulter J. Kai Yamafuji whittles college choices to 2

Punahou's J. Kai Yamafuji, if track and field returns this spring, will be trying to reach new heights. Photo by Jay Metzger/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Like most every athlete in the sporting world, J. Kai Yamafuji is hoping the COVID-19 virus pandemic situation clears up soon.

This spring, he wants to soar higher than anyone else has in Hawaii. Again. But he might not be able to because of all the cancellations.

We’re talking about the pole vault, the discipline in which Yamafuji reached 16 feet when he was a sophomore at Punahou two years ago. He didn’t better that mark a year ago as a junior, when he slumped a bit, but coach Tom Hintnaus thinks he could do some serious damage to the record books this year as a Buffanblu senior.

“He came out this season jumping well,” Hintnaus said by cellphone Tuesday. “He jumped 15-6, which is a good mark for early in the season. He’s also not running his longest. He’s using seven left-foot strides and hasn’t started the 8 strides yet.”

That mark of 16 feet from two years ago is the highest pole vault ever recorded in the state at any level. The mark of 15-6 that Yamafuji did two weekends ago in a preseason meet is three inches higher than the high school state meet record.

“We’re hoping that sports can return and we get at least the ILH championships and state championships,” Hintnaus said. “The states are scheduled for Kaiser, a really good place to vault, with a nice tail wind. I’m thinking he can get a foot or a foot-and-a-half higher than the 15-3 state meet record — maybe get up to 16-3 or 16-9. He surprises me all the time.”

Soon, Yamafuji will choose where he wants to compete in college and it’s down to Oregon and Boston University. He went on official visits to both, as well as to Cornell.

“I’m happy with the way everything is going except the way the track season is going,” Yamafuji said Tuesday by phone. “It’s really disappointing and not looking great right now if the season is going to happen. I had a lot I wanted to do. I’m grateful knowing that wherever I go in college, I’ll be able to jump.”

The Hawaii High School Athletic Association and its member leagues will be meeting a minimum of once a week to discuss emerging COVID-19 scenarios. For now, all sports activities are on hold.

Yamafuji continues to work out to get ready for the possible reinstatement of sports. However, he can’t participate in an official practice with Hintnaus there.

“I’m honestly not sure where I want to go to college,” Yamafuji said. “There are things I love about both. Oregon has the most amazing track facilities and it’s going to beat everywhere in the world once they finish the new stadium. Also, my sister (former Punahou track and field athlete Alialani Yamafuji) attends there.

“Boston, I thought the city was amazing. It snowed the second night I was there and it was the second time I had ever seen snow. I was playing in it and they were looking at me like I was crazy. The first morning it was 16 degrees, but with the wind chill it felt like two degrees. It was super cool and so different than Hawaii and to experience a different culture like that would be a good thing. “


  1. Mike Matson March 24, 2020 6:10 pm

    Hope he gets to leave his mark at the Hawaii H.S. level before moving on !

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