According to Jan Johnson and Russ Versteeg, authors of “Illustrated History of the Pole Vault,” there is no definitive proof that pole vaulting was practiced as a competitive sport during ancient times; however, the use of vaulting techniques is evident in numerous artworks produced by ancient civilizations. Egyptian stone engravings dating back to 2686 B.C. depict spears being utilized as a means for soldiers to mount enemy structures; while pictures adorning excavated vases and pots of ancient Greece show how poles were used to vault onto horses’ backs.
It wasn’t until 1829 BC that pole vaulting was practiced as a sporting discipline. Written in 12 A.D., The Irish Book of Leinster refers to the Tailteann Games held at Telltown from 1829 B.C. to 554 B.C., in which athletes performed pole vaulting, as well as dart throwing, stone throwing, high jumping and triple jumping. Interestingly, though, the pole vault was utilized to gain distance rather than height; a technique originating from methods used by Celtic farmers to leap over rivers and canals without getting wet.
Modern-day pole vaulting — a contest of height — say Jan Johnson and Russ Versteeg, may be accredited to Johann GutsMuths’ book titled “Gymnastik furde Jungend.” Published in 1792, it describes the benefits and rules of the activity, as well as guidelines including the principles of pole vaulting, the length of the approach and suggested hand grip. It was first practiced as a sport in Germany, and by 1855 it was embraced by the English in the English Games, after which the Greeks adopted it in their first modern-day Olympic games in 1896.
The first pole vaults were used by students of GutsMuths, and were constructed from wood such as ash and hickory. Bamboo poles were introduced in 1920, and during the 1940’s and 50’s aluminum and steel were used. Nowadays, however, advanced composite materials such as carbon fiber and fiberglass constitute the contemporary pole; equipping athletes to achieve much greater heights than their predecessors.
In spite of vast improvements in equipment and safety measures since its introduction as a sport, pole vaulting is considered the most dangerous track event. In a report compiled by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research of the University of North Carolina, it was noted that the sport is responsible for the majority of track-related deaths, as well as severe injuries to the skull and spinal column. Therefore, it is not to be attempted without supervision of a qualified instructor.
By: Dylan De Castro
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