Pole vault quartet on runway to stardom

Under rusty girders in the disused Midland Railway Workshops, an extraordinary production line of pole vaulting perfection rolls on.

One after the other, again and again, a quartet of competitors glide down a makeshift runway before jolting skywards in search of their Olympic dreams.

Childhood friends Emma Philippe and Nina Kennedy and sisters Vicky and Liz Parnov would arguably look just as comfortable on the world’s modelling catwalks as they do on the platform in their training shed.

Renowned coach Alex Parnov’s body and facial expressions twitch with each jump from his latest batch of budding stars.

Parnov knows what it takes to build a champion, having already had vaulters including Steve Hooker, Paul Burgess, Emma George, Dmitri Markov, Tatiana Grigorieva, Viktor Chistiakov, Alana Boyd and Kim Howe under his watch.

But his steely glaze clearly suggests his work is not yet done.

Former student Amanda Bisk, now a social media sensation with more than 236,000 fans watching her new yoga pursuits on Instagram, simply cannot keep away.

Despite retiring from the sport in 2011 because of chronic fatigue syndrome, Bisk looks on anxiously and gives an insight into how her former coach Parnov has built the type of sustained success other athletic programs crave.

“Alex has created a wonderland of pole vault talent . . . he’s just a genius,” says Bisk, who helped Parnov coach the four rising stars on her retirement.

“Everything he does is with such a passion that I’ve never seen in anyone else. He just gets it – it’s amazing. He’s got a computer in his head which he uses for magical things and he’s changed so many lives.

“It’s so inspirational.”

Funk music fills the workshop, which was converted into a training venue for Hooker in 2011, as Parnov stomps in, wheeling two eskies filled with cut-off frozen plastic water bottles.

He plonks the bottles in a bath filled with water so his jumpers can have instant ice treatment after training.

The nearby video technology allows him to also give them instant feedback on their work, but looks strangely out of place in the humble surrounds.

The Ukrainian-born coach, who was tipped out of the 1983 Soviet Union team for eventual pole vault superstar Sergey Bubka, sheepishly admits that as a 14-year-old he hated the sport.

He moved to Adelaide to start his coaching career when injury forced him to lay down his pole and a shock call in 1998 from legendary late sporting administrator Wally Foreman lured him to WA and his dynasty began.

Parnov’s four young guns average up to 60 jumps a week at the peak of their training. Boyd, the Melbourne 31-year-old whose star is on the rise, appears to be the only vaulter standing between them and one of the three spots available to Australians at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

While the Parnov sisters have a strong sibling bond away from their sport, Philippe and Kennedy, who last Saturday set a new junior world pole vault record of 4.59m, have been friends since they ran at Perry Lakes against each other in a junior 4x400m relay in 2008.

Vicky, who described pole vaulting as “addictive”, said the close bond between the four would make it difficult if only one of them missed out on selection for Rio. She believes it is a realistic possibility.

“We might not be best friends at that point,” she said coyly.

“You don’t want to be a bitch or anything like that and it’s always nice to see one of the group succeed, but everyone is doing it for themselves in the end and we all understand that.

“It’s a good way to promote staying fit and healthy and constantly exercising and it definitely makes life so much easier.”

YouTube vision of Parnov storming on to the track to jump into the arms of Hooker, who had just made the gold medal- winning leap at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, showed how much he cares about his athletes.

But the fact he had broken most of the bones in his body during a career which peaked with a jump of 5.82m meant he always felt nervous for his athletes, particularly for his daughters.

“Nervous, of course,” he said. “I never prioritise anyone, they are all my athletes and I just coach. But maybe very deep inside I may be a little bit worried because it’s a risk-taking event and could end up not very good.”

Vicky, the eldest of the group at 24, said some people questioned why she trained under her father. She said she couldn’t imagine it any other way.

“It feels really, really good to be that close to someone who is so good at what they do,” she said.

Bisk, who had a top jump of 4.40m, said she was a sports fanatic who ultimately became seduced by pole-vaulting at 17 years of age and described it as a positive pathway in life for other young girls and women.

“When I was three years old, my dad took me to gymnastics because I was driving him crazy,” she laughed.

“Alex gave me a two-week trial and he took me on. Elite sport really does change your life. You just really have this purpose.

“For a long time, pole vault was my purpose and I felt like it was where I belonged, but it also grooms you as a person with self-confidence and discipline.”

New facilities are in the final stages of construction at the WA Institute of Sport and will drag Parnov and his team into a new, state-of-the-art world.

WAIS executive director Steve Lawrence expected that to build on what was already regarded as a world-leading pole vault program under Parnov.

“Statistics show he is the most successful pole vault coach in the world,” Mr Lawrence said.

“Nobody else has had two world champions, an Olympic champion, multiple world record-holders . . . He’s a very special coach in that sense and he’s created a special program.

“The fact that out of little, old WA, he can continue to find the quality of talent and allow it to develop is just fantastic.”

Everything he (Alex Parnov) does is with such a passion.”Former student *Amanda Bisk *




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