How it works

Competitors vault over a 4.5m-long horizontal bar by sprinting along a runway and jamming a pole against a ‘stop board’ at the back of a recessed metal ‘box’ sited centrally at the base of the uprights. They seek to clear the greatest height without knocking the bar to the ground.

All competitors have three attempts per height, although they can elect to ‘pass’, i.e. advance to a greater height despite not having cleared the current one. Three consecutive failures at the same height, or combination of heights, cause a competitor’s elimination.

If competitors are tied on the same height, the winner will have had the least failures at that height. If competitors are still tied, the winner will have had the least failures across the entire competition. Thereafter a jump-off will decide the winner.


Pole vaulting, originally for distance, dates back to at least the 16th century and there is also evidence it was even practised in Ancient Greece. The origins of modern vaulting can be traced back to Germany in the 1850s, when the sport was adopted by a gymnastic association, and also in the Lake District region of England, where contests were held with ash or hickory poles with iron spikes in the end.

The first recorded use of bamboo poles was in 1857. The top vaulters started using steel poles in the 1940s and flexible fibreglass, and later carbon fibre, poles started to be widely used in the late 1950s.

Did you know

Tom Ray, a Cumbrian vaulter who was the ‘world champion’ in 1887, used to gain several feet by climbing the pole when it was upright. This method has now been outlawed: if an athlete’s grip moves above the top hand after take-off, the vault is declared foul

Gold standard

USA racked up an incredible sequence by winning every men’s Olympic title from 1896 to 1968 (if the 1906 Intercalated Games are discounted), a sequence that was broken by East Germany’s Wolfgang Nordwig in 1972. Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka won six consecutive gold medals at the IAAF World Championships from 1983 to 1997.

The women’s Pole Vault came onto the IAAF World Championships programme in 1999 and first appeared at the Olympic Games in 2000. Both contests were won by the US vaulter Stacy Dragila.




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