HOW high is up? Nineteen feet going on 20, if you're a pole-vaulter.
Seven times in the past seven weeks three vaulters -- two American, one Soviet -- have taken turns raising the world's indoor record: It's now 19 feet, 51/2 inches. In three joint American meets in the next nine days, the three men -- Billy Olson (current record holder), Joe Dial, and Sergei Bubka -- are scheduled to pound down runways, plant their ultra-flexible fiber-glass poles, and be catapulted aloft in search of still-higher levels.
Both technique and technology have helped to raise the vaulters' bar, since Cornelius Warmerdam in the early 1940s became the first to propel himself over the 15-foot mark.
But it is the vaulters themselves who are most responsible for the improvements, as they refused to accept the limitation of 15 feet, or 16. Or 19. Their successes in breaking barriers parallel the achievements of athletes in other endeavors: milers and marathoners, batters and pitchers, goalies and goal scorers.
Nor is the breaking of the concept of boundaries limited to athletes. Students and teachers, business women and men, diplomats . . . each in his or her own sphere can soar to previously unrealized heights. Even if a packed Madison Square Garden isn't looking on.