Friday, April 29, 2016

History Class

Learning to pole vault is always a resilient process as there are many factors going into a simple three step vault. One thing that is the same throughout all beginner vaults however, is that they all utilize what is called a straight pole technique. All this means is that the athlete does not bend the pole and in return has to move their arms differently compared to bending the pole. I personally remember my first couple weeks of  pole vaulting as straight pole vaulting is a very rugged, vigorous movement. Every time I planted the pole it would wrench on my shoulder and whisk my feet from beneath me. As soon as I began to bend the pole however, I gained a great appreciation for vaulting. Every time I bolt down the runway, I am aware that I will be fling shot high into the air without having my arms ripped off as the pole melts into a perfect bend upon touching the ground. Bending the pole gives a springing motion at the top of the vault and hurls the athlete over the bar. The current technique, that is formed around the bend and snap of the pole, is not the technique used when pole vaulting was invented. 

When the sport of pole vault was invented, the pole were dramatically different from those used in competition today. The poles where simple bamboo sticks that were planted into a sand pit. Bamboo is not very flexible and therefor would cause the athlete to use a straight pole technique that also varied from those used today. An athlete would stick the pole in the ground and immediately begin to work his or her hands up the pole as if they were climbing a rope in gym class. When near the peak of the vault, they would kick their legs up in hopes to clear the bar. 

After years of pole vaulting with stiff bamboo sticks, the world record became harder and harder to break as the technique and pole type had not changed. This was the case just before World War II which would soon change due to the war itself. America normally obtained its bamboo poles from Japan who soon became enemies with America after the egregious attack on pearl harbor. This caused the American pole vaulters to use steal poles which were very stiff and rugged to use. The war itself did not help the sport at all as it create a paucity of top pole vaulters as most were drafted and killed in the war creating no competition to the lucky men who were not drafted. 

After the World War II had ended, the world record had remained the same for countless years. It was time for a change. Fiber glass poles made their way into the circulation of the sport and changed both the level (pun intended) of competition, and the form forever. The bend of the pole allowed athletes to transfer their energy created by running more effectively and efficiently than ever before. If you were to try pole vaulting, there would be weeks of hard straight polling but soon enough you would have the joy of handling the bend. Doesn't it sound tempting to rid the bend and see what happens?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Planting for Height

Towards the end of any pole vault event, the tenuous athletes dissipate until there are only two victors remaining. The crowd watches intently as the athletes push the bar to a new level, pun intended, with every jump they make. For me, no matter if I am the last one left, or the first one out, the crowd is always watching as I have ostentatious form. This is solely due to technique I have when initially planting my pole. I am able to bend a pole rated with a weight 20 pounds over my actual body weight because of my strong plant. This creates a crowd pleasing vault that equates to at big bend in the pole.

The whole point of bending the pole when vaulting is to transfer the horizontal energy created when running, into a vertical snap of energy when the pole straightens out. Without a good plant, an athlete is not able to bend the pole thus bringing their height down by a sufficient amount. Every noteworthy high school pole vault coach will tell you that the most important part of a vault is the plant. A good plant means taking off from the runway with your right hand jetting straight up into the sky like the freedom tower while your hips stay directly in line vertically with your torso.

As soon as you leave the ground, you transfer from your plant, to your takeoff position. They are relatively the same position as they happen virtually at the same time, but the main difference is that your plant is transient, as it is just before you leave the ground, whereas while holding your takeoff position, you are in the air. It takes a long time learn, but in order to sufficiently pole vault while bending the pole, every vaulter needs to hold their take off position. This means that they effortlessly hang from their top hand while maintaining a perfect knee drive and straight trail leg. As soon as an athlete begins to bring his or her hips forward, they stop their momentum forward, and the pole begins to straighten out. This is why it is substantial to hold takeoff form for a long time in order to role the curve of the pole to vertical.

I spent a total of five weeks constantly trying to hold my takeoff longer and longer before I was able to repetitively make it into the pit. With the combination of a strong plant and good takeoff form, I catch the eyes of the audience with every vault as this is what decides how high you go. Right now McFarland has seven male vaulters and two female vaulters. If you think you could have a good plant with even better take off form, try pole vaulting as you will most likely excel into a varsity spot very quickly.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Selecting the Correct Pole

Half of my season last year was aimlessly spent trying to make one with a large pole. Every time I would work my way towards the end of a pole, I would start to blow through and need to move to a larger, stronger pole. As a vaulter progresses through their vaulting career, variables such as speed, strength, and flexibility all change rapidly. Towards the end of last track season, I had moved up to a pole two feet longer than I started on that was also 30lbs rated over my weight. What this meant was that the pole was substantially stiffer than I was used to. Every time I left the ground my shoulder would be wrenched out of place as I was desperately tried to get deep enough into the pit. Once I had successfully gained control of the pole, the possibilities presented were endless.

The whole reason why it is difficult to break the pole vault world record is not because one guy had a radically different vaulting technique than other, but because everyone has maxed out on their poles. Elite pole vaulters continue to work out not only to maintain their current athletic shape, but they want to gain more speed and agility. This will eventually allow them to move up to a longer pole causing them to have a taller initial height as they let go of the pole at the top of their vault. More speed also allows for more energy to be transfer from the horizontal forces of running into the pole. 

In order to move up to a larger pole, more energy is necessary in order to roll the bend of the pole to vertical. With a longer pole at a higher weight limit, the pole is stiffer giving more snap at the moment of straightening out. The snap will propel the vaulter higher after his final push off from the pole which at the top elite level is the main determiner of who wins. The current world record holder does not have to highest push off height meaning the measurement from top top of the pole to the apex of the vault. He holds the world record because his timing is perfectly correlated with the movement of the pole and his speed down the runway allows him to pop off the top of a stiffer pole. 
Height also helps a vaulter use as larger pole as they leave the ground with the pole closer to vertical than a short vaulter. As I have stated in this blog before, the world record holder is significantly shorter than his main competitors. He levels the playing field with his speed which allows him to hold hire on longer poles than those with the same stature. When it comes to pole vaulting, At the elite level, one of the determiners of who comes out on top, pun intended, is who has enough speed and strength to use a bigger longer pole. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Dangers of Pole Vault

Dashing down the runway, firmly gripping my pole, I started my first warmup run of the day. Every pole vaulter knows their step, meaning how far back from the pit they start their approach. Just a day before the meet, I had been starting from 73 feet for my six step approach. I did the same for my first warm up run of the day and soon met an invisible wall when planting my pole into the box. My final step was almost three feet back from where it was supposed to be.

The sight spectators saw, could be described as a kid running into a screen door. Their head immediately jerks back, wrenching their spinal cord into a full semicircle as their feet are swept beneath them. I was brutally clotheslined due to my step being out and holding the pole tightly. Once my feet were swept beneath me, I was sent through the air like a doll hurled by a raging child. With in milliseconds, I had slammed into the side of the mats and then shoved down by gravity head first into the metal pit where you're supposed to plant your pole.

Whenever someone thinks about a pole vaulter, the word crazy immediately pops into their head. With a connotation of a wild, drastic, peculiar meaning, this is not all that offensive to pole vaulters. At a normal highschool polevault height, I would have to disagree with the comment, "You must be crazy to do that." The current wisconsin division two state record is only fifteen-feet, one inch. In perspective to the towering 20+ feet olympic vauters jump, this is a very low height. In order to be considered a "good" pole vaulter in the state of Wisconsin, one needs to have a personal record of 14 feet and above. At this height, there are not a lot of very dangerous events that could occur. There are definitely some results vaulters want to stay away from, but the big dangers presented when vaulting olympic heights, are simply not present.

Yes, there are a lot of different things that could happen when pole vaulting, but brutal events such as death are almost completely out of the picture. The only time I have seen a vaulter draw blood when vaulting is when a girls, pole snapped due to how old it was, and when my own hands rip open from blisters and or calluses. Both of these can be prevented by simply taking proper precautions. After reading that polevault at a low height is not that dangerous, I would highly encourage you to try it out for yourself as there is no other experience parallel to a sport like polevault.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Perfect Vaulter

The first time I consulted with the track coaches about possibly pole vaulting, they told me it would be a difficult challenge. The coaches immediately stated that most elite vaulters are taller than 6' 3", extremely quick, and strong but lean at the same time. The only "category" they mentioned that I qualified for, was speed. I approached the vault not nearly as fast as the elite vaulters, but would not be classified as slow. When it came to height and body shape, I presented to be the complete opposite of what I "should" be in order compete at a higher level (pun intended). I stood a staggering 5' 3" during my freshman track season and had body similar to a built wrestler. Despite not having the best natural stature on my side, I was able to jump 10' freshman year using a pole called 'The Lady Rocket.' 

My coaches had originally told me it would be difficult to excel in pole vault as I did not fit the memo of most elite vaulters, but upon further review, I was more qualified than originally judged to be. The current male pole vault world record holder is Renaud Lavillenie from France. He set the bar at a crazy height of 6.16m or 20' 2 1/2". Contrary to most elite vaulters, Renaud is only 5' 9" and still manages to hold the world record. This proves that an athlete does not have to be towering tall to excel in pole vault. 

Being shorter means having smaller takeoff angles and therefore the need for speed. When a vaulter first leaves the ground in any vault, their right arm should be fully extended above their head while being directly vertical  from their left takeoff foot. Because Renaud is shorter, in order for him to hold at a height parallel to those of other vaulters, he has to be farther out from the box. This is due to having a smaller angle between the pole and the ground when taking off. A smaller take off angle also means that he has to travel a farther distance horizontally to get over the bar than taller vaulters.

In order to overcome this disadvantage, he levels the playing field with his speed. The more speed a vaulter has when taking off, the more energy transferred into the pole. Even though he may be short, the current pole vault world record holder has lighting fast speed allowing him to transfer more energy into the pole. 

Now knowing more about the natural characteristics of an elite pole vaulter, would you make to be a greater vaulter? or are you vertically challenged and need speed like me?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Taking the Jump

     Pole vault holds to be a unique, complicated, technique specific sport. Although lots show sheer terror when asked to pole vault, the sport in it and of itself is a very interesting combination of body control, speed, and strength. Unlike any other track event where the participant is slowly worn into practicing and competing by either gaining distance, speed, and or stamina, pole vault has a very steep, rigid learning curve.
    The first time I vaulted, I started on the ground. Holding just higher on the pole than I could possibly reach over my head, I would barely leave the ground. Not vaulting into the pit is how everyone starts. A very simple 3 step drill helps the vaulter learn the proper footwork while staying safe and close to the ground.
    Once warmed up and comfortable with the footwork and handling of the pole, I was eager to finally make my first actual vault into the pit. I remember asking my coach where to start my three initial steps from. Lining my left foot up with 33' mark on the runway, holding tightly onto the pole, I dashed towards the pit, barely clearing my feet above the mat in front of me. As you can imagine, my first vault did not look anything like actual pole vault. As a matter of fact, no one's first vault ever looks anything more than jumping onto the pit while holding a pole that does nothing but takes up space. Mastering the three step run up is the first major step in any vaulters carrier. Once its time to move onto actually clearing a crossbar, the whole game changes. Different techniques and forms present themselves creating infinite bad habit technique corridors to walk down.
The only way to work your way from a three step vault to a bar clearing five step vault is to "Just do it!" as my coach told me. Grasping higher on the pole and moving back to the your personal five step distance, you just have to go for it. Charge down the run as fast as you possibly can and let the pole take you is the best advice for any new vaulter. In order to become a sufficient fearless vaulter, you just have to take that initial jump, and go for it.