Is there more to Pole Vaulting that meets the eye? Pole Vaulting was not a part of the ancient Olympic games, but evidence as a sport can be found as far back as 500 B. C. (Purves 1). Pole vaulting is one of the most amazing events to watch in track and field. From the eyes of the audience, it looks simple. Just run and jump with a pole. However, what many people don’t know is that it takes years to learn the fundamentals of the pole vault. It’s a sport that requires speed, strength, and agility.
The aim of the pole vault is to clear a high bar placed between two supporting posts (standards) by lifting and propelling yourself upwards on the end of a strong, flexible pole. Successful pole vaulting requires a mastery of the six separate techniques that must all flow into one continuous movement. The techniques are the approach, plant and take off, swing-up, extension and turn, and fly away. First step is the approach, where the pole vaulter sprints down the runway to achieve maximum speed and correct position to initiate take off at the end of the approach.
The strides vary between each vaulter. 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 the weight of the pole and get their plant up faster. 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.
Vaulters increase stride frequency while keeping the knees up like a sprinter. Unlike short sprint events such as the 100 m dash in which a forward lean is used to accelerate, vaulters maintain a more upright torso position throughout the approach. Second step is the plant and take off. The plant and take off is typically three steps out from the final step. Vaulters will usually run 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.
For example; a vaulter on a “ten count” (referring to the number of counted steps from the starting point to the box) would count backwards from ten, only counting the steps taken with the left foot, until the last three steps taken and both feet are counted as three, two, and one. These last three steps are normally quicker than the previous strides and are referred to as the “turn-over”. The goal of this phase is to efficiently translate the energy from the approach into energy stored by the elasticity of the pole, and to gain as much 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 (left and vice-versa for left-handed vaulters), 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. Fourth step is the extension and turn. The extension refers to the extension of the hips upward with outstretched legs with the shoulders down, causing the vaulter to be positioned upside down. This position is often referred to as “inversion”. At this step, the pole begins to spring back, propelling the vaulter quickly upward.
The hands of the vaulter remain close to his/her body as they move from the shins back to the hips and upper torso. After, the vaulter will begin to turn. The turn is immediately after the extension. The vaulter turns 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 being done, although ideally the vaulter will remain as vertical as possible. The final step is the fly away. This is the easiest step in the pole vault.
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 just occurs naturally, and the vaulter’s main concern is making sure that his/her arms, face and any other body parts do not knock the bar off as he/she goes over. The vaulter should land near the middle of the pit with his/her face up and back on the mats.
The vault has been a feature of the Olympic Games since the inaugural modern Games of 1896. (Purves 1) The vault is one of the most amazing events to watch in track and field. So many people today think the vault is running with one pole to jump over another, but there is a lot more to it. It is a sport that requires speed, strength, and agility, but a successful vaulter also needs a high level of the following technical skills: the approach, plant and take off, swing-up, extension and turn, and fly away.