By Grant Overstake
For more than forty years, Australian master painter Phillip Carrero has meticulously captured the likenesses of public figures, military heroes, and outstanding athletes, whose images are on display at the Olympics Athletic Centre in Sydney.
Over and above all, however, the artist from Down Under is on top of the world when painting the graceful athletes who soar in one of the world’s most beautiful and artistic sports — pole-vaulting.
Carrero’s dual passions are manifested in his most recent work, a stunning image of American legend Joe Dial, one of the world’s all-time great vaulters.
Dial, who was the first high school pole-vaulter to clear 18 feet, and the first college pole-vaulter to clear 19 feet, is the first US vaulter to have his career captured by the world’s greatest painter of pole-vaulters.
In the painting, the former world-record holder is shown clearing the bar at an indoor meet held at the Myriad Convention Center in Oklahoma City in 1986 with an American flag as a backdrop.
Because it was his first painting of an American pole-vaulter, Carrero was compelled to do his best work. “I was acutely aware I had been asked to do a painting of an American icon and really wanted to produce something as good as the subject was,” he said.
The artwork was commissioned as a surprise 51st birthday gift by Joe’s wife, Shawna.
“The biggest meaning of this painting is that everything I’m passionate about comes together in it: painting, pole-vaulting and Jesus,” added Carrero, who like the Dials, is a Christian.
For the past twenty seasons,Joe has been the head coach of the Oral Roberts University Cross Country and Track & Field programs, presiding over the most successful era in Golden Eagle history. His wife Shawna is an assistant coach at ORU.
The painting on canvas was unrolled in October, 2013, at Vaultober, a costume pole-vault fund-raiser for the program. The crowd cheered as Shawna and Coach Dial, decked in camouflage, posed with two of their three children, Tyler and Tommy. The teary-eyed legend was overwhelmed.
“Shawna’s always doing nice things for me but this was a great and very fun surprise,” Dial said. “I’m honored to have a painting from Phil Carrero and for him to take the time to do such a great work and put so much effort into it. It’s obvious that he loves the pole-vault.”
As Joe recalls, the painting captures a poignant day in his career.
“This was one week after I set the indoor world record. I was on a 5-meter, 16.4 flex pole. The bar was at 18-8 and I made it extremely easy. But I’d found out hours before the meet that Serge Bubka had just broken my world record, and I failed to regain the world record back that day. Even so, it was a fun moment in time because all my family and friends were in the stands watching.”
Just as Dial will always remember soaring over 18-8, Carrero will never forget the artistic thrill of turning a grainy photo into a stunning work of art, which was a towering feat in itself.
“My challenge as an artist was to portray an athlete I had never met, and whom I certainly didn’t know personally in 1986, from a photo that didn’t help,” Carrero said.
While the photo captures the moment, Joe’s face is unrecognizable, his hands are blurry, and there’s no detail visible in the socks, shoes, pole or crossbar. So, Carrero solicited help from friends who competed against Joe in those years. They provided him with color photos of the type of pole and the crossbar used back then, and Shawna came up with color photos of the shorts and singlet her husband wore on that day. To capture the person behind the pole-vaulter, Carrero relied on Shawna’s descriptions, and articles in the press and how they portrayed him.
“From that I had to build a personality as close to that of Joe as I could, and reflect all that in the painting as faithfully as I could,” Carrero added. The artist rendered the scene in every detail, even capturing the transparency of the fiberglass pole, and the sticky spray material on the tape grip.
The thrilling moment came when Joe told him the painting, “Looks just like the jump felt… Awesome!” An accomplished artist herself, Shawna critiqued the painting in one word… Fabulous!
A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Carrero began painting and pole-vaulting in his early teens. The artist and athlete devoted every waking hour to these passions, leaving little room for anything else. By the late 1960’s, Carrero’s artistic career was in full-flight, and, at age 19, he pole-vaulted to a world-class height of 4.20 meters (13-8) on an old-school aluminum pole.
Today he pursues his passion for painting and pole-vaulting in his adopted home of Sydney, where he also is an Level III pole-vault coach.
A native of Marlow, Okla., Dial set the current Class 2A state record in the long jump with a leap of 23’05″ in 1981. He was the Oklahoma Class 2A state long jump champion in 1980 and 1981, and was a four-time state champion in the pole vault (1978-81). Dial was the first high school pole vaulter to clear 18 feet.
Dial attended Oklahoma State University where he was a four-time NCAA and six-time Big 8 Conference pole vault champion. Dial was the first collegiate pole vaulter to clear 19 feet, as he broke the Big Eight Conference record at the 1985 championships after vaulting 19’01.5”. He was inducted into the OSU Hall of Fame in 2002.
Joe was the indoor world record-holder in the pole vault in 1986, 19-43/4 (5.91). He also held the American pole vault record for nine years (1985-94), breaking his own record nine times in that span. Joe’s personal record is 19’6 ½ (5.96). He won the bronze medal at the 1989 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. In 2011, Joe Dial was inducted into the Pole Vault Hall of Fame.
His coaching resume at ORU includes three NCAA National Championships, including one by seven-time All-American pole-vaulter, Jack Whitt, who won the NCAA Outdoor Pole Vault in 2012 and placed second last season. Whitt, who turned pro last summer, was ranked No. 3 in the US in 2013.
Joe won many medals and trophies during his career. Some have been pulled out of storage and are on display at Marlow High School, Oklahoma State, and in the track office at ORU. The mementos mean more to him now, reminding him of what he accomplished and the places he vaulted around the world.
The new painting is perhaps the greatest memento of all.
“I always wondered what that photo would look like in color because that was my favorite,” Joe said. “It’s nice to think that something like this can last in my family for generations to come. ”
The painting would look great above the mantel in the Dial family home but Shawna thinks it will wind up hanging in the lobby of the track office, “So that all of our recruits can admire it.”
While her husband was first American to have his golden moment captured by Carrero, she expects more vaulters will be lining the runway to commission him.
Of course, that would suit the artist just fine. The vaulter-painter who grew up idolizing Bob Richards, Don Bragg, John Pennel, and Bob Seagren hopes to receive more commissions from legendary vaulters in America and around the world.