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VERMILLION, S.D. | Where does Derek Miles store his Olympic bronze medal -- in a special case glorifying its greatness? In a frame at his office? In a safe deposit box? 

None of the above. Not yet, anyway. 

"I think it's in my wife's nightstand," Miles said with a laugh. "I think." 

Not that it will reside in a drawer forever, like grandma's wedding ring -- Miles said he plans to put it on display in his house at some point, along with photos and mementos from his pole vaulting career and three Olympic games. 

"An Olympic medal probably deserves more than just sitting in your nightstand," he said. 

USD Derek Miles

For Derek Miles, Olympic greatness didn't come overnight. It took more than a decade of work before he competed at his first Olympics, in 2004. 

Miles, who won a bronze medal for the pole vault in the 2008 Beijing games, didn't receive his medal until April 2017. That's because he originally came in fourth -- until Ukrainian Denys Yurchenko, the original bronze winner, was disqualified for doping. 

Chatter of possible doping had circulated since about a year after the 2008 games, Miles said, but with each passing year he figured the odds decreased that anything would come of it. 

Olympics officials tried repeatedly to get Yurchenko to cooperate with the doping investigation, but to no avail, Miles said. While he was finally stripped of his medal in 2016, he never actually gave it back. 

So instead, Miles was given one of the original 2008 bronze medals that had been kept as a spare. 

While Miles called Yurchenko's unwillingness to relinquish the medal "kind of unfortunate," there is a bright side. 

"It's 50-50, I mean, do you want the medal that's been sitting in the Ukrainian's sock drawer for, you know, 10 years?" Miles said. "And who knows what he's done with it, and how he's taken care of it? 

"I think having the medal that was given on that day would be kind of cool, but at the same time, having my medal -- you know, this medal is specially given to me -- I think was kind of maybe equally, if not more, interesting."

Oddly enough, if Miles had doping suspicions about any of his 2008 competitors, Yurchenko wasn't necessarily one of them. 

"To be honest, there was another person in the competition that I thought, if there was a ban to come out, I thought it would have been that person," he said. 

USD Derek Miles

Derek Miles, three-time Olympian and University of South Dakota's associate director of track and field/jumps, shows his 2008 Olympics bronze medal in pole vaulting. He won the medal after Ukrainian Denys Yurchenko became ensnared in doping allegations. 

The athlete in Miles has mixed feelings about getting a medal the way he did.

"I think the biggest disappointment for me is I was capable of jumping higher than I did," Miles said. 

"To be honest, he could have been dirty or not, I still could have beat him." 

'I want to take it all in' 

It took a long time for Miles to get to the Olympics. He began pole vaulting in high school in California, but never even made it to state.

In college at the University of South Dakota in the 1990s, Miles continued pole vaulting, but his performance was pretty unremarkable. Still, he said he was lucky to have been at USD, where coaches Lucky Huber and Dave Gottsleben nurtured his skill. 

"Had I gone anywhere else, I don't think I would have had the same experience or the same career," he said. 

After college, he kept on practicing. 

"It was just a long, developmental process, just sticking with it because I love doing it," he said. 

By 2000, Miles qualified for the Olympic trials and was an alternate on the team. Four years later, he was a pole vaulter on Team USA. 

USD Derek Miles

Derek Miles is now an associate director of track and field/jumps at the University of South Dakota. He is shown here instructing student Kenneth McMahan. 

Miles said each of his experiences at the Summer Olympics was different. In Athens in 2004, he was mostly awestruck by the opportunity to be there. 

"My first Olympic experience was kind of like, 'Wow, this is my first Olympic team, I don't know if I'll ever make another one, I want to enjoy it, I want to take it all in,'" Miles said. He came in seventh in the pole vault that year. 

At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Miles had hit his stride. 

2008 "was a little bit of a different experience, it was a little bit more focused, a little bit more, 'This is my chance to medal. This is kind of what I'm coming in to do,'" he said. "As opposed to '04, I was kind of just this kid-in-a-candy-store, trying to take it all in." 

To be a great pole vaulter, Miles said, requires a combination of expertise and youth. If you haven't been at it long enough, you won't have the required finesse and technical skill -- but if you've been at it too long, your age will be a millstone around your neck. 

By 2008, Miles was in the sweet spot -- he had been pole vaulting for about 20 years, yet at age 35, he was still young enough to compete seriously. 

USD Derek Miles

Derek Miles is now an associate director of track and field/jumps at the University of South Dakota. He is shown here instructing student Kenneth McMahan. 

Yet like anything else, pole vaulters' performances can also vary greatly depending on the day. His performance that August day in Beijing was not exactly perfect. 

"Pole vault's like that. Some days it's clicking and some days it's not," Miles said. 

He and Yurchenko jumped at the same height, but Yurchenko got over the bar in fewer tries and beat Miles. 

By the time of the London Olympics in 2012, Miles' Achilles' tendon was causing problems, and he didn't make the finals. 

He was nearly 40 by then, and it would be his last entry into the games as a competitor. All he really hoped for was to make the Olympic team. 

"It was just kind of trying to hang on and go out with a bang kind of a thing," Miles said. "It was more of a pop than a bang." 

Today, Miles is a track and field coach at USD. He retired from pole vaulting in 2012. 

Does he ever pole vault for old time's sake? 

"Maybe once a year I pick up a pole and just run down and goof off for a couple jumps," Miles said. "But I wouldn't call that pole vaulting. I would call that screwing around." 

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