Track & field 101: Vaulting as difficult as it looks

Only one high school sporting event involves someone flying in mid-air well above the ground by more than their own height.

It’s the pole vault, and just take a look upward during most track and field meets.

“Pole vaulting is a dangerous sport,” said Tom Unruh, pole vault coach for the Erie-Prophetstown Panthers track and field team.

Unlike its cousin, the high jump, the goal in pole vaulting is to clear a crossbar several feet in the air – that is, with the aid of a bendable pole to fling bodies over. Because the event involves a significant amount of air time, the risk of injury is great. Pole vaulting is the only event that competitors can elect to wear helmets.

However, in his 30 years of coaching the sport, Unruh has never witnessed a serious injury. Even with the risks, pole vaulting is an event that tends to amaze most people that see it, simply by the presence of flight.

Jared Cole saw it during middle school, and wanted to give it a try for his freshman year with Erie-Prophetstown.

“My first time doing an actual vault was at a meet at Westwood,” said Cole, now a senior. “I was pretty scared, because you’re going up in the air pretty high.”

“I didn’t even know if I was even going to go up in the air,” Cole said. ”I got up 9 feet, and I fell straight down in the hole. I landed on my heel. I was out for about a week.”

Chalk it up as a lesson learned for Cole, and, after any not-so-painful lessons later, he is emerging as one of the area’s lead vaulters. Cole and Tyler Naftzger see the Class 2A state qualifying mark of 13 feet, 6 inches within sight, and Alyssa DeShane is less than a foot away from establishing the new Panthers’ girls standard. The old standard is 10 feet, set by Katelyn Garrison in 2012.

So, what does it take to be good?

“The number one thing is just confidence,” Cole said. “Our coach always says that you got to be a little crazy to be a pole vaulter, because of what we are doing. If you’re afraid, you’re not going to be able to get good.”

Whether its being afraid of carrying a long pole, afraid of it piercing the midsection on the plant, or afraid of being in mid-air, there is no place for fear while on the runway. As long as it’s done right, pole vaulting shouldn’t be difficult.

It all starts with finding the proper pole to use. Most poles are correlated with a vaulter’s body weight. Finding one that has just enough bend to make it not seem very stiff works best.

“Every pole is a different height,” Cole said. “They have a label on the top, and it will read the height and the weight – which it is 14 [feet] for mine, and the weight is in big numbers, and mine is 165. You have to be under that weight. With the length, it is just by skill level.”




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