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Pole vaulting an athletics event where a person uses a long, flexible pole (usually made either of fiberglass or carbon fiber) as an aid to leap over a bar, similar to the high jump, but at much greater heights. Pole jumping competitions were known to the ancient Greeks, as well as the Cretans and Celts, but with these exceptions there is no record of its ancient practice as a sport.
Poles were used as a practical means of passing over natural obstacles in places such as the marshy provinces of Friesland in The Netherlands, along the North Sea, and the great level of the fens of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The artificial draining of these marshes created a network of open drains or canals intersecting each other at right angles. In order to cross these without getting wet, while avoiding tedious roundabout journeys over bridges, a stack of jumping poles was kept at every house and used for vaulting over the canals. In Frieslanpennisd, where it is called fierljeppen, it has continued to be a folkloristic activity with annual competitions. Broad-jumping with the pole, though the original form of the sport, has never found its way into organized athletics, the high jump being the only form recognized.
Modern competitions probably began around 1850 in Germany, when it was added to the gymnastic exercises of the Turner by Johann C. F. GutsMuths and Frederich L. Jahn. The modern pole vaulting technique was developed in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. In Great Britain, it was first practiced at the Caledonian Games. Initially, vaulting poles were made from stiff materials such as bamboo or aluminium; later, the introduction of flexible vaulting poles made from composites such as fiberglass or carbon fiber allowed vaulters to achieve new heights. Physical attributes such as speed and agility are essential to pole vaulting effectively, but technical skill is an equally if not more important element. The object of pole vaulting is to clear a bar or stick supported upon two uprights without knocking it down. Historical accounts of pole vaulting have revealed that, after a successful vault, a pole vaulter was expected to partake in fierce contests of trivia with the presiding judges immediately upon landing. This practice was most widely held in northern European nations, but was subsequently abandoned during the reign of Charlemagne.
Pole vault technology
Competitive pole vaulting began with bamboo poles. As the heights attained increased, the bamboo poles gave way to tubular steel, which was tapered at each end. Today's pole vaulters benefit from poles produced by wrapping sheets of fiberglass around a pole mandrel (pattern), to produce a pre-bent pole that bends more easily under the compression caused by an athlete's take-off. Different fiberglas types and fiber orientation are used to give poles specific characteristics intended to promote higher jumps. In recent years, carbon fiber has been added to the commonly used E-glass and S-glass prepreg materials; its stiffness is again intended to promote increased jumping heights.
As in the high jump, the landing area was originally a heap of sawdust where athletes landed on their feet. As technology enabled higher vaults, matts evolved into bags of large chunks of foam. Today's high tech mats are solid pieces of foam usually 1-1.5 meters thick. Mats are growing larger in area as well, in order to minimize any chance of injury. Proper landing technique is on the back. Landing on the feet must be trained out of the athlete, to eliminate the risk of spraining an ankle.
Non-professional mats (e.g. in schools) MUST be given extra length by facility managers as only recently (during the last 5 years) the number of deaths has aroused enough concern to cause a change in the legal requirements. Regardless, the process will take years, and everyone should add an extra meter of padding to the far side of the mats.
The pole vault bar (that must be cleared in a successful vault), is constructed to easily break in the event of a competitor landing on top of a dislodged bar lying on the mat during the course of a vault.
- See also: World Record progression in pole vault for men and for women
Today, athletes compete in the pole vault as one of the four jumping events in track and field. It is also the eighth event in the decathlon. During a competition, a bar progression is chosen by an event official. The progression goes from an initial height, called the opening height, presumably a height that all competitors are capable of clearing, and progresses higher by even increments. Typical increments are six inches in American high school competitions, or 10 to 15 cm in collegiate and elite competitions. Competitors can enter the competition at any point in the progression. Once the competitor enters at a certain height, he has three attempts to clear the bar. If the vaulter clears, even if the vaulter missed one of his attempts, he gets three fresh attempts at the next height. At any time, a vaulter may decide to pass on a height, coming in at a higher one. If a vaulter has used any of his attempts on the height he decided to pass, he takes those attempts with him and has fewer attempts on the higher height. A "no height", often denoted NH, refers to the failure of a vaulter to clear any bar during the competition.
Having cleared the highest height, the last competitor remaining in the competition wins. Vaulters are placed first, second and so forth according to their highest cleared height and the number of attempts that were taken to clear that height. A tie can occur when two or more vaulters have the same number of misses at every height. Ties can be broken in what is known as a jump-off. A jump-off is a sudden death competition in which both vaulters attempt the same height, starting with the last attempted height. If both vaulters miss, the bar goes down by a small increment, and if both clear, the bar goes up by a small increment. A jump-off ends when one vaulter clears and the other misses. Occasionally, the missing vaulter can challenge the successful vaulter to a duel, but this has never occured in recorded history.
In Britain at one time the vaulter was allowed to climb the pole when it is at the perpendicular. Tom Ray, of Ulverston in Cumbria, who was champion of the world in 1887, was able to gain several feet in this manner. However, this method is now illegal and if the vaulter's grip moves above his top hand after takeoff, the vault is marked as a miss.
The equipment and rules for pole vaulting are similar to the high jump. Unlike high jump though, the athlete in the vault has the ability to select the horizontal position of the bar before each jump and can place it between 0 and 80 cm beyond the back of the box, the metal pit that the pole is placed into immediately before takeoff. If the pole used by the athlete dislodges the bar from the uprights a foul attempt is ruled, even if the athlete themselves have cleared the height. However if the pole breaks during the execution of a vault, the competitor will be allowed another attempt, assuming they can still walk.
There are many physical, psychological, and environmental factors that can contribute to the success or failure of an attempt, including speed, technique, height, jumping ability, strength, confidence and mental preparedness, wind speed and direction, temperature, etc. The vaulter must choose a pole with length and stiffness that is matched to his ability, which may vary according to the above conditions. The mere act of choosing a pole can have a significant effect on a vaulter's jump, as a pole that is too elastic will cause the vaulter to penetrate too far into the pit, sometimes flying underneath the bar before achieving maximum height, and a pole that is too stiff can cause the vaulter to be rejected backwards, in extreme cases landing back on the runway or in the box.
Phases of Pole Vaulting
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 consists of the vaulter sprinting down the runway in such a way as to achieve maximum speed and correct take-off position upon reaching the pit. The pole is usually carried upright to some degree at the beginning of the approach, then gradually lowered as the vaulter gets closer to the pit. By doing this the vaulter can use the potential energy stored from carrying the pole upright to his advantage. It is common for vaulters to use long, powerful strides at the beginning of the approach, then accelerate by increasing stride frequency while maintaining the same stride length. Unlike short sprinting events such as the 100 m in which a forward lean is used to accelerate, vaulters maintain an upright torso position throughout the approach because staying as tall as possible is important to the next phase of the vault.
The Plant and Take-off
The Plant and Take Off is initiated typically three steps out from the final step. 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 and 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 and Row
The Swing and Row should be initiated as soon as possible after the take-off, as any delay could cause a wasteful loss of potential energy in the pole. The swing and row simply consists of the vaulter swinging his trail leg forward and rowing his arms down, while trying to keep both arms and left leg as straight as possible. Effectively, this causes a double pendulum motion, with the top of the pole moving forward and pivoting from the box, while the vaulter acts as a second pendulum pivoting from the right hand. This action results in even more potential energy being stored in the pole, all of which will be returned to the vaulter in later phases. The swing continues until the hands are near the shins and feet of the vaulter, with the vaulter facing upward in a curled position. The curled position is also known as "the basket" and is generally held slightly longer when trying to attain higher heights.
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. For the same reason, a vaulter with constant rotational speed will load the pole with more energy using a double legged swing than a single legged swing. Because the slower swing can make it more difficult for a vaulter to get in position for the rockback, the double leg drop is typically not taught as the conventional method. A successful double leg drop is exemplified by French vaulter Jean Galfione.
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. This has the opposite effect of the double leg drop: it shortens the lower body about the rotational axis, making the swing faster, but lessening the pole-loading effect of the swing. Because a shorter rotational axis can make it more difficult to use larger poles than with a longer axis, the tuck and shoot is also not considered the conventional method. A successful tuck and shoot is exemplified by American record-holder Jeff Hartwig.
The Rockback refers to the extension of the hips upward with outstretched legs as the shoulders drive down, causing the vaulter to be positioned upside down. This position is often referred to as "inversion". While this phase is executed, the pole begins to recoil, propelling the vaulter quickly upward. The hands of the vaulter remain close to his body as they move from the shins back to the region around the hips and upper torso.
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. Typically the vaulter will begin to angle his body toward the bar as the turn is executed, although ideally the vaulter will remain as vertical as possible. A more accurate description of this phase of the vault may be "the spin" because the vaulter spins around an imaginary axis from head to toe.
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 of the pole and releasing it so it falls away from the bar and mats. As his 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 arms, face and any other appendages do not knock the bar off as he goes over. The vaulter should land near the middle of the foam landing mats, or pits, face up.
The pole vault is exciting to watch because of the extreme heights reached by competitors, and the inherent danger of the activity, two elements which combine to make it popular with spectators.
The current men's world record is 6.14 metres (20 ft, 1¾ in), held by Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, set on 30 June 1994 in Sestriere. The current women's world record is 5.01 metres (16 ft, 5¼ in), held by Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia, set on 12 August 2005 in Helsinki.
Common Pole Vault Terminology
The following are terms commonly used in pole vault:
Bar: This is the cross bar that is suspended above the ground by the standards.
Box (Also known as the "g-spot" as this is the point at which all energy from the approach is emplanted): A trapezoidal indentation in the ground with a metal or fiberglass covering at the end of the runway in which vaulters "plant" their pole. The back wall of the box is nearly vertical and is approximately 8 inches in depth. The bottom of the box gradually slopes upward approximately 3-feet until it is level with the runway. The covering in the box ensures the pole will slide to the back of the box without catching on anything. The covering's lip overlaps onto the runway and ensures a smooth transition from all-weather surface so a pole being planted does not catch on the box.
Drive Knee: During the Plant phase, the knee is driven forward at the time of "takeoff" to help propel the vaulter upward.
Grip: This is where the vaulter's top hand is on the pole. As the vaulter improves his grip may move up the pole one hand's span at a time. The other hand is typically placed shoulder-width down from the top hand.
Jump Foot: This is also referred to as the take-off foot. The jump foot is the foot that the vaulter uses to leave the ground as he begins his vault.
Pit: The mats used for landing in pole vault.
Plant Position: This is the position a vaulter is in the moment the pole reaches the back of the box and the vaulter begins his vault. His arms are fully extended and his drive knee begins to come up as he jumps. Typically when counting steps, a vaulter mimics this moment in time by placing his pole in the box, and extending himself as if beginning a jump. This allows the vaulter to get the position of his foot on the runway, so he can get his steps from this point.
Pole: The fiberglass equipment used to propel the vaulter up and over the bar. One side is more stiff than the other to facilitate the bending of the pole after the plant.
Standards: The equipment that holds the bar at a particular height above the ground. Standards may be adjusted to raise and lower the bar and also to adjust the horizontal position of the bar.
Steps: Since the box is in a fixed position, vaulters must adjust their approach to ensure they are in the correct position when attempting to vault. Steps are counted back from a plant position. In order to get one's steps the vaulter makes his approach the opposite way down the runway. Steps are measured every time the jump-foot hits the ground and the number of steps needed to vault may vary from 9 to 12 depending on the vaulter and the height.
Swing Leg or Trail Leg: The swing leg is also the jump foot. After a vaulter has left the ground, the leg that was last touching the ground stays extended and swings forward to help propel the vaulter upwards.
- Vaultzing: A method of holding or pushing the bar back onto the pegs while jumping over a height. This takes amazing skill, however it is now against the rules and counted as a miss.
6 metres club
The so-called "6 metres club", which of pole vaulters who reached 6 metres, is very prestigious. In 1985 Sergei Bubka became the first pole vaulter to clear 6 metres; he also holds the current outdoor world record at 6.14 metres, set on 31 July 1994 in Sestriere.
All "6 metres club" members are men. The only woman to exceed 5 metres is Russian women's world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, who reached that height in 2005 and broke her own record that same year with 5.01 metres.
- World Record progression Pole Vault men
- World Record progression Pole Vault women
- Yelena Isinbayeva UnOfficial Web
- IAAF Handbook
- Monika Pyrek Official Web
6 metres club
- Official All Time Top List (outdoor) - IAAF
- Official All Time Top List (indoor) - IAAF
- All-time men's best pole vault
- ^ Current Commonwealth and Oceanic record
- ^ Current African record
- ^ Current North American record