A chance to compete against local Olympians has London pole vaulters flying high in the street.
The London Western Track and Field Club, in partnership with London Ribfest, hosted its first ever Vault the Park on Central Ave. beside Victoria Park on Thursday. The free event gives young athletes a chance to pole vault along side Alysha Newman who will be representing Canada at the Rio Olympics in the sport.
The action began at 11am with an open competition for high schoolers. Later, more seasoned athletes compete in the elite women and elite men challenges. The fully-equipped competition has brought a lot of attention to the sport, according to Derrick Johnston, manager of London Western Track and Field Club.
“It’s an Olympic year, and track and field is the most popular sport in the Olympics,” says Johnston. “So we thought it would be a great idea to showcase our sport locally.”
Robin Bone, a Western student who holds the Canadian Interuniversity Sport pole vault record, got the chance to go head to head against Newman.
Johnston is glad to have had the opportunity to host the competition at Ribfest, as it is mutually beneficial.
“It’s a huge benefit for us to come down here and capitalize on the foot traffic that will be here,” says Johnston. “We get the benefit of traffic already being here, and they get the benefit of us bringing an entertainment value at their first day.”
Johnston is impressed at the talent who came out, and applauds their athleticism and risk taking.
“Out of all the events in track and field, it’s probably the most athletic event. Certainly the most dangerous as well,” says Johnston.
There are many dangers in pole vaulting, which proved all too real when staff had to attend to a vaulter who lost momentum on his jump, sending him flying in the wrong direction. However, Johnston says that they know the risks, and prepare for what may happen.
“There is a genuine risk in doing pole vaulting. We do everything we can to ensure that nobody gets hurt, and we’ve got proper coaches. But unfortunately people do get hurt sometimes,” says Johnston.
Event organizer Dave Collins, the head pole vault coach at Western University, has seen many students partake in the sport, and knows what it takes to meet the mark.
“You’ve got to be a bit of a risk taker, because you’re running as fast as you can trying to grip as high as you can, to launch yourself over as high as you can,” says Collins. “You’ve got to be fast, you’ve got to be strong, and you’ve got to have a little bit of a screw loose to be able to do this.”
Collins also served as London Decathlete Damian Warner’s pole vaulting coach. He says it takes a lot of dedication and training to become an Olympian.
“[It requires an] unbelievable amount of training, especially for somebody like Damian, who has to compete in 10 events,” says Collins. “But it doesn’t matter what event it is, these athletes are training five-six days a week for three-four hours a day, doing a whole bunch of different things.”
Collins says the street event could set the stage for future Olympians.
“You’ve got to start somewhere and with this open competition, it gives them an opportunity to showcase what their talent is,” says Collins.