CARSON, Calif. -- Stacy Dragila hopes her days of limping down the runway are over.
Nearly a year after right Achilles surgery, the pioneer of the women's pole vault is in the early stages of a comeback. Her goal is the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"I've been oiling my joints pretty good, so there's no rust," she said, laughing.
At 36, Dragila remains the biggest American name in the pole vault, having propelled the event to new heights when few women dared even to try it.
She cemented her reputation by winning the first Olympic gold medal in the event at the 2000 Sydney Games -- an achievement she considers the highlight of her career. She also won world titles in 1999 and 2001.
"I try not and sit back and say, 'I've accomplished that,"' she said. "I have so much more to do, and that's motivating. Right now, it's compete time."
Dragila plans to take another step today at the Adidas Track Classic in Carson, her second major meet of the year. She finished fifth two weeks ago while fighting strong head winds at the Modesto Relays.
"Everybody was encouraging me," she said. "It was a different feeling."
Dragila used to be the vaulter who set the bar for everyone else. But injuries have plagued her since 2004, and the event's dominant performer now is Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, the reigning Olympic and world champion who has set 20 world records.
Jenn Stuczynski has supplanted Dragila as the top American pole vaulter.
"It's been an amazing journey for women's pole vault," Dragila said, sounding like a proud mom. "I remember when people were saying, 'There's no way women can jump 14 feet.' It's awesome other people have stepped up and taken the barrier further."
Dragila and the 25-year-old Stuczynski are to compete against each other for the first time in Carson.
"She's jumped high and she's a competitor," Stuczynski said, "and with that, you always have to be careful."
At the 2004 Olympics, Dragila didn't make it out of qualifying because of injuries to both Achilles tendons.
She walked off the track in stunned disbelief before breaking down in tears.
The same thing happened again at the 2005 world championships in Finland.
"After Helsinki, I said, 'What am I doing?' "
Dragila returned to the US and visited five doctors, all of whom had different opinions, which confused her even more. She didn't compete in 2006 while rehabbing her right Achilles with physical therapy. But it didn't respond.
"I probably should have been tied down to a bed," she said. "There was so much scar tissue in there, it kept tearing."
With the Beijing Olympics drawing closer, Dragila finally settled on a doctor and had surgery last June.
"It feels great," she said.
But she's not pain free. Dragila acknowledges having "a little bit of pain" in her left Achilles and her buttocks bothers her, too.
"The glute problem is causing some of the Achilles pain. It's amazing how your body is a chain of events," she said. "I don't think any athlete is ever 100 percent."
During her run of injuries, Dragila moved to Phoenix to train with a new coach. She since has reunited with Dave Nielsen at Idaho State, her alma mater.
"Physically, performance wise, she's very good still," Nielsen said. "She has to understand where she is age wise and give herself that magic pill called rest. She wants to work harder than she ever has. I have to put the reins on."