Pole vault

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Pole vaulting is an athletics event where competitors use a long, flexible pole 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.

History

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. Initially, vaulting poles were made from stiff materials such as bamboo or aluminium, until the introduction of flexible vaulting poles made from composites such as fiberglass or carbon fiber. 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 is to clear a bar or stick supported upon two uprights without knocking it down. While women's pole vault records were kept for many years, the event only started to gain popularity in the 1990s.

Modern vaulting

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 10-15 cm in collegiate and elite competitions. Competitors can enter the competition at any point in the progression. After entering the competition, the vaulter has three attempts to successfully clear the bar. After a successful clearance, the vaulter may jump at the next height in the progression, or choose to pass to a higher height. A vaulter is out of the competition when he/she misses a bar three consecutive times. 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.

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 anywhere from 40cm to 80cm beyond the back of the box. 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.

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 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. Unlike short sprinting events such as the 100m 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 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. At the same time, the vaulter is dropping the pole tip into the box, a trapezoidal indentation in the ground with a metal or fiberglass covering. On the final step, the vaulter jumps off the left leg and drives the right 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 left leg angled down and behind him.
  • 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 left 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 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.
  • The Fly-away 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 as his body goes over and around the bar, all while 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 held by Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, set on June 30, 1994 in Sestriere. The current women's world record is 5.01 metres held by Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia, set on August 12 2005 in Helsinki.

Greek Pole vaulting

This sport is of special interest to Greece for several reasons:

  • Greece won a bronze medal in pole vaulting in the 1956 Olympics
  • Greece has had a world record-holder in the event
  • Greece won a gold medal in the women's event in the 2016 Olympics

Georgios Roubanis won a bronze medal at the Melbourne Games with a jump of 4.50m. It was the first Olympic medal Greece had won in track and field since Kostas Tsiklitiras' standing broad jump gold in the Stockholm Games of 1912.

Christos Papanikolaou set the world record on October 24, 1970, at a meeting in Athens, with a jump of 5.49m. He broke the record of Wolfgang Nordwig of the German Democratic Republic (5.46m) and held it until April 8, 1972.

Katerina Stefanidi won gold at the Rio Games with a 4.85m performance. She also won gold at the 2017 World Championship games of London.

The current Greek record in pole vaulting is held by Kostas Filippidis (5.91m) since July 4, 2015. The women's record is held by Katerina Stefanidi (4.91m) as of August 6, 2017.

Male athletes

All time men's records

Height Name Date Location
5.83 m. Fillipidis Konstantinos 31 Jan 13 Linz
5.62 m. Evaggelou Marios 12 Jun 04 Athens
5.60 m. Tsitouras Stavros 28 Jun 97 Athens
5.56 m. Pallakis Christos 23 Jul 95 Patra
5.55 m. Patsoukakis Dimitrios 19 Jul 09 Kaunas
5.55 m. Kouroupakis Stavros 3 Sep 06 Zenica
5.50 m. Tsatalos Constantinos 28 Jun 97 Athens
5.50 m. Fillipidis Konstantinos 28 Jun 04 Chania
5.49 m. Papanikolaou Christos 24 Oct 70 Piraeus
5.45 m. Anastasiadis Symeon 23 May 93 Rethymno
5.40 m. Tzivas Konstantinos 11 Jun 97 Athens
5.40 m. Sakellariadis Ilias 28 Jun 78 Faliro
5.40 m. Sgouros Philippos 03 May 03 Pyrgos
5.32 m. Kytteas Dimitrios 10 Aug 75 Bucurest
5.31 m. Tsonis Andreas 12 Jun 88 Thessaloniki

Female athletes

References

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