Spikes16 Jan 2015

Heaven is a pole vault


Berlin Fliegt

Pole vaulters don't have it easy getting to events. You try checking a six-metre pole on to an international flight. Nonetheless it has managed to become one of the most popular events to hit the road, with city-centre comps cropping up all over the globe. And down in Reno, Nevada, they have got the biggest roadshow of them all.

In recent the years there have been several competitions around the globe that have proven why the pole vault is worthy some special treatment. It may take some time to set up the runway, the bed and don’t get us started on trying to find space for all those poles. But the atmosphere at those events is unique, and make all the hassle worthwhile.

Almost a regular fixture in the athletics calendar now are meets like ‘Berlin fliegt’, hosted in the shadow the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Elsewhere, the Golden Fly Series takes pole vault and long jump on romantic weekends away at some of Europe's most alluring cities.

Last year, the French embraced the talent of their national crop with a scenic street vault 'Paris Perche' at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile State-side, the IAAF Kids’ Athletics event on Broadway proved a huge success.

Valentin Lavillenie Paris Perche

Paris Perche, aka The Parisien Pole Vault

A first in 2014 was the mall vault, held in a shopping centre by the Drake Relays organisers in Des Moines, Iowa, to promote their annual meet. And with the London Diamond League taking a trip to Glasgow last year year, the British capital quickly set up an Anniversary Games event outside the regal surround of the Horse Guards Parade.

A rodeo hall in Reno, however, has taken pole vault to the next level. Take a look at the Livestock Events Centre this weekend and you’ll find eleven pole vault pits hosting the world’s elite. Here’s what goes down at the National Pole Vault Summit.

Best in the business

Reno is a big draw for big stars. The elite competition has an impressive pedigree: Olympic champions Stacy Dragila, Nick Hysong, Tim Mack, Steve Hooker and Jenn Suhr have all got their poles out in Reno in recent years, as have former world champions Fabiana Murer and Rens Blom.

Lavillenie pole vault on Make A Gif

What he didn't say: "OMG OMG OMG OMG I LOVE POLE VAULT"

Tonight’s men’s comp is as competitive a field as any, with current Olympic champ and indoor world record holder Renaud Lavillenie competing for a third successive year. He’ll be up against two-time decathlon world champion Trey Hardee, British outdoor record holder Steve Lewis and American record holder Brad Walker

This year’s women’s field includes 2014 USA indoor champion Mary Saxer and 2014 European silver medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi.

All in it together

It’s not just the big names that go to Reno. Junior and college athletes travel from all over America to get involved. In the massive hall where the action takes place there can be as many as 11 vaulters doing their thing at the same time.

It means budding athletes compete alongside some of the best in the world. Even the great Lavillenie, who describes the event as “amazing”, can’t help but go a bit gooey at the sight of so much vaulting action.

“There were eleven jumping pits and more than a thousand pole vaulters in the hall,” he said after last year’s summit. “All the American people seem to be fans of pole vault. We were mixed with kids and it was pretty extraordinary. Solidarity is one of the beautiful things about our sport.”

The Summit hosts talks from leading figures from the pole-vaulting world. At this year’s event, Philippe D’Encausse, the coach behind Lavillenie's indoor world record, will be talking about his approach to coaching and the ways in which they are preparing for an assault on Sergey Bubka’s 20-year-old outdoor record.

Olympic champs, national record holders and some of the brightest coaching minds in athletics lead master classes for athletes and coaches alike.