Pole vaulting is a track and field event in which a person uses a long, flexible pole as an aid to leap over a bar. Pole jumping competitions were known to the ancient Greeks, as well as the Cretans and Celts. It has been a full medal event at the Olympic Games since 1896 for men and 2000 for women.

Initially, vaulting poles were made from stiff materials such as bamboo or aluminum. The introduction of flexible vaulting poles made from composites such as fiberglass or carbon fiber allowed vaulters to achieve greater height.

Today, athletes compete in the pole vault as one of the four jumping events in track and field. Because the high jump and pole vault are both vertical jumps, the competitions are conducted similarly. Each athlete can choose what height they would like to enter the competition. Once they enter, they have three attempts to clear the height. If a height is cleared, the vaulter advances to the next height, where they will have three more attempts. Once the vaulter has three consecutive misses, they are out of the competition and the highest height they cleared is their result. A “no height”, often denoted “NH”, refers to the failure of a vaulter to clear any bar during the competition.

The competitor who clears the highest height is the winner. If two or more vaulters have finished with the same height, the tie is broken by the number of misses at the final height. If the tied vaulters have the same number of misses at the last height cleared, the tie is broken by the total number of misses in the competition.

Poles are manufactured with ratings corresponding to the vaulter’s maximum weight. Some organizations forbid vaulters to use poles rated below their weight as a safety precaution. Because pole stiffness and length are important factors to a vaulter’s performance, it is not uncommon for an elite vaulter to carry as many as 10 poles to a competition.

Although there are many techniques used by vaulters at various skill levels to clear the bar, the generally accepted technical model can be broken down into several phases, listed and described below:

The approach

During the approach the pole vaulter sprints down the runway in such a way as to achieve maximum speed and correct position to initiate takeoff at the end of the approach. Top class vaulters use approaches with 18 to 22 strides. At the beginning of the approach the pole is usually carried upright to some degree, and gradually lowered as the vaulter gets closer to the landing pit. This way the vaulter can minimize levered weight of the pole. The faster the vaulter can run and the more efficient his/her take-off is, the greater the potential energy that can be achieved and used during the vault. It is common for vaulters to gradually increase running speed throughout the approach, reaching maximum speed at take-off.

The plant and take-off

The plant and take off is initiated typically three steps out from the final step. Vaulters (usually) will count their steps backwards from their starting point to the box only counting the steps taken on the left foot (vice-versa for left-handers) except for the second step from the box, which is taken by the right foot. The goal of this phase is to efficiently translate the kinetic energy accumulated from the approach into potential energy stored by the elasticity of the pole, and to gain as much initial vertical height as possible by jumping off the ground.

The plant starts with the vaulter raising his arms up from around the hips or mid-torso until they are fully outstretched above his head, with the right arm extended directly above the head and the left arm extended perpendicular to the pole (vice-versa for left-handed vaulters). At the same time, the vaulter is dropping the pole tip into the box.

On the final step, the vaulter jumps off the trail leg which should always remain straight and then drives the front knee forward. As the pole slides into the back of the box the pole begins to bend and the vaulter continues up and forward, leaving the trail leg angled down and behind him.

The swing up

The swing and row simply consists of the vaulter swinging his trail leg forward and rowing the pole, bringing his top arm down to the hips, while trying to keep the trail leg straight to store more potential energy into the pole, the rowing motion also keeps the pole bent for a longer period of time for the vaulter to get into optimum position. This action gives the vaulter the best position possible to be “ejected” off the pole.

Alternate swing methods

Another form of swing is called the double leg drop. After executing a normal take-off, the vaulter lets his lead leg drop and swings with both legs together. In doing this, the weight of the vaulter’s lower body is centered further from his rotational axis, making it more difficult for the vaulter to swing with as great a speed as with a single legged swing.

A third form of swing is called the tuck and shoot. This is accomplished by tucking both legs in toward the chest rather than leaving the trail leg extended.

The extension

The extension refers to the extension of the hips upward with outstretched legs as the shoulders drive down, causing the vaulter to be positioned upside down.

The turn

The turn is executed immediately after or even during the end of the rockback. As the name implies, the vaulter turns 180° toward the pole while extending the arms down past the head and shoulders.

The fly-away

This is often highly emphasized by spectators and novice vaulters, but it is arguably the easiest phase of the vault and is a result of proper execution of previous phases. This phase mainly consists of the vaulter pushing off the pole and releasing it so it falls away from the bar and mats. As his/her body goes over and around the bar, the vaulter is facing the bar. Rotation of the body over the bar occurs naturally, and the vaulter’s main concern is making sure that his/her arms, face and any other appendages do not knock the bar off as he/she goes over. The vaulter should land near the middle of the foam landing mats, or pits, face up.

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