The United States was the front-runner in the early development of pole vaulting techniques, which led to instant success in the Olympics. American Bill Hoyt won the first gold medal in the 1896 games and fellow American Albert Taylor won the silver.
United States pole vaulters would duplicate the one-two finish in the 1900 Games, as Irving Baxter won gold and Meredith Colkett won the silver. In 1904, the American pole vaulters made it a clean sweep, with Charles Dvorak winning the gold, Leroy Samse capturing the silver and Louis Wilkins winning the bronze.
France’s Fernand Gonder put an end to the United States’ domination of the pole vault by winning the gold medal in the 1906 Olympics. Sweden’s Bruno Söderström won the silver medal and the top-placing American was Edward Glover, who came home with the bronze medal.
Gonder’s gold medal in the 1906 Olympics proved to be little more than a temporary setback for the Americans, as United States pole vaulters proceeded to win every gold medal beginning in 1908, when Ed Cook and Alfred Gilbert were each awarded a gold medal, until 1968, when Bob Seagren claimed the gold medal.
In the middle of the United States’ run of gold medals was Bob Richards, who became the first man to win two gold medals in the event. After winning the bronze in 1948, Richards won gold medals in 1952 and 1956. Richards became the first athlete to appear on the front of a box of Wheaties in 1958.
When the United States’ run of gold medals ended in 1972, European athletes established themselves as the premier pole vaulters of their day. Between 1972 and 1996, athletes from Russia, France and Poland won two gold medals each, with East Germany winning the other.
An American pole vaulter returned to the top spot on the podium in 2000, when Nick Hysong edged fellow American Lawrence Johnson for the gold medal, and the U.S. again won the gold in 2004, as Timothy Mack edged teammate Toby Stevenson.
The most recent gold medal winner was Australia’s Steve Hooker in 2008.
American Stacy Dragila won the first gold medal to be given in the women’s pole vault, winning in Sydney, Australia, in 2000, by edging local Australian hero Tatiana Grigorieva, who placed second. Iceland’s Vala Flosadottir won the bronze medal.
Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva duplicated the feat of Richards, when she won gold medals in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Fellow Russian Svetlana Feofanova won the silver in 2004 and the bronze medal in 2008.
by: A.G. Moody