Let us appreciate pole vaulters

One of the less-appreciated high school track events seems to be the pole vault. I have not always kept up with who is pole vaulting, but I do know in recent years, including this year, that Ledford High School has had a few really good ones.

brooke shelton

Ledford’s Brooke Shelton’s athleticism allowed her to clear 11 feet in the pole vault last Monday.

sierra cefali

Sierra Cefali of Ledford exhibits total muscle control in the pole vault last Monday with the bar a couple of feet lower than teammate Brooke Shelton’s.

This past Monday I watched two Ledford girls display what appeared, in my layman’s eyes, to be extraordinary athleticism in the pole vault competition at the Davidson County Track Meet. I watched other schools’ pole vaulters at the lower heights and I thought they were good. Then I saw Ledford’s Sierra Cefali fly gracefully over the high bar and she was in air of her own. Then at an even higher height, Ledford’s Brooke Shelton topped them all as she cleared 11 feet, which is just 18 inches short of the N.C. state high school record. Both girls exhibited fine graceful form, in my opinion.

Think about 11 feet. That’s a foot higher than a basketball rim. Stand in your house and see how far up your eight-foot ceiling looks, then imagine an additional three feet higher that you need to get your entire body over in one fluid motion. Then think of the women’s world record pole vault height: 16 feet 6 3/4 inches, which is tantamount to the top of a second floor of a house.

The science of pole vaulting is very intriguing to me. I took a couple of semesters of high school physics, which was enough to at least comprehend the terminology and some mathematical equations of physics. I referred to the Popular Science Magazine web site for the technical explanation in the next paragraph.

The vaulter creates kinetic energy by running. When the pole is planted, the kinetic energy is converted into potential energy stored in the pole as it bends to about a 90-degree angle. As the pole straightens out again, the potential energy is released and propels the vaulter upward.

The pole gets a lot of credit, too much credit. It takes a very talented athlete to succeed at pole vaulting. First, one must be able to run fast while holding aloft a long pole and then while in full stride plant the far end of the pole into a specific spot to stop it dead still. Full body muscle control is required to kick up the legs to create more inertia when ascending into the air. Then there is the matter of straightening out the body near the apex of the flight.

At this point arm strength is used to push the body higher off the pole and then letting go so that the depleted pole falls backward. As the vaulter crosses the bar, the athlete must rotate their entire body 180 degrees before arcing through the finish. The reward of a successful vault is landing on a nice soft pad face up and seeing the bar still in place.

There’s one more key ingredient to pole vaulting. Forget all that physics and athletic mumbo-jumbo. Simply imagine standing ready to run with a pole that will fling you 10 feet or more into the air; that is if you even do it right. Would you have the courage? I would not.


Cefali Vaulter Magazine
Cefali Vaulter Magazine

Leave A Comment