Pole vault

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.



As a practical means of passing over such natural obstacles as canals and brooks, pole vaulting has been used in many parts of the world, such as in the marshy provinces along the North Sea and the great level of the fens of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The artificial draining of these marshes brought into existence a network of open drains or canals intersecting each other at right angles. In order to cross these without getting wet, and at the same time avoid tedious roundabout journeys over the bridges, a stack of jumping poles was kept at every house, which were commonly used for vaulting over the canals.

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 commonly practised at the Caledonian games. Although strength and good physical condition are essential to efficiency in pole-vaulting, skill is a much more important element. 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. The object is to clear a bar or lath 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

See also: World Record progression Pole Vault women

Having chosen a pole to suit the competitor's ability (speed, technique, confidence), the height of the bar and the prevailing conditions (wind direction, temperature) a right-handed vaulter would place the right hand, with an undergrip, within 10 to 2 in of the top end of the pole, the left hand, with an over-grip, being from 14 to 30 in (350 to 750 mm) below the right. In major competitions such as the Olympic Games, each competitor will bring as many as 10 different poles to the competition.

To complete a vault, competitors sprint towards the bar and "plant" one end of the poles (which vary significantly in length, and competitors choose different ones depending on their own form and the weather conditions) in a small hole up to 800 mm in front of mattress and bar, using the kinetic energy gained in their sprint to cause the pole to bend as they pivot up off the ground. As the pole angles towards the vertical, it springs back straight, releasing its stored energy to drive the vaulter higher. As he nears the bar he throws his legs forward, and, pushing with shoulders and arms, clears it, letting the pole fall backwards. Competitors, by this time, push off from the pole and attempt to roll over the bar with the abdomen facing down, landing face up on a soft foam mat. In Britain at one time the vaulter was allowed to climb the pole when it is at the perpendicular. Tom Ray, of Ulverston in Lancashire, who was champion of the world in 1887, was able to gain several feet in this manner. The other equipment and rules for the competition are virtually identical 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 anywhere from -40cm to +80cm relative to 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 excecution of a vault, the competitior will be allowed another attempt, assuming they can still walk.

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, and the women's world record is 4.92 metres (16 ft, 1¾ in), by Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia, set on 3 September 2004 at the Ivo Van Damme Memorial in Brussels.


High schooler Chip Heuser clearing a personal best of 5.20 meters at the Texas Relays, April, 2003:

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  • IAAF rules (http://www.iaaf.org/downloads/IAAFhandbook/)

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