The Basics of Poles

One of the questions that came up at the OAT-CCC Pole Vault Safety Clinic, is what are the “basics “ of pole vault poles.  So here goes.

  1. All Pole Vault Poles work.  While there are varying reason for liking one brand of pole vault pole over another, in general, all brands of pole vault pole work.  They are “normed” to the same scale – so that a 12’/140 lb pole from one manufacturer is close to the same flex and feel as a 12’/140 lb pole from another manufacturer.
  2. All pole vault poles have a “grip range”, the area near the top of the pole where the top hand is placed so that the pole bends and unbends the way it is supposed to.  (Note – poles can be vaulted holding below the “grip range”, but will basically be a “straight” pole without bend).
  3. The grip range starts at the location of the weight band, and goes 12” below that band.  For UCS Spirit poles, that’s 6” from the top of the pole, for many other brands it can be three inches or even less.  That all depends on where the manufacturer puts the weight band (and why it’s important not to alter the position of the manufacturer’s weight band).
  4. All modern pole vault poles are designed with a “bend” In the pole.  The bend is the direction that the pole is supposed to bend when vaulted.  The bend is usually identified by the placement of the label in the middle to upper middle of the pole.  For UCS Spirit poles, the word “Spirit” goes down, inside the bend, when the bend is correctly towards the pit.  For most other manufacturers, the manufacturer’s name goes up, making it on the outside of the bend.  If you don’t know and can’t tell, place the pole tip on level ground, then put the top of the pole to “roll” on your forearm.  The pole should roll so that the bend is facing the ground.  Think of a banana.
  5. Tape on the Pole
    1. Most vaulters like to have their handholds taped with athletic tape.  You can also buy colorful “pole vault” tape, and even double sided sticky tape.  All of those are legal.  Taping the hand holds is NOT a requirement.
    2. The rules require that there are no “ridges” in the taping.  Practically, the tape should be overlapped so there aren’t ridges.  In addition, if the pole is taped from the top, ridges are likely to form as a vaulter uses the pole.  If the pole is taped from the lower end up towards the weight band, the “ridges” are covered and the tape will likely remain legal for a longer period of time.
    3. When poles bend, the often rub against the top edge of the box.  Most vaulters protect that area with tape so that the rubbing doesn’t damage the pole.  I always taped tongue depressors (popsicle sticks) on the outside of the bend from 4” from the pole tip to 10” (approximately).  That way the wooden sticks took the wear and were replaceable, rather than the pole.  You can also buy “pole protectors” from sporting goods stores that serve the same purpose.  There aren’t any rule restrictions on how many layers of tape are on the bottom of the pole (just the hand hold).
    4. Some vaulters strip all of the decorative outer layer of tape from their poles.  There is no problem with that, nor with replacing those layers with some other decorative tape.  Mondo Duplantis, for example, uses a yellow see-through tape over the Spirit-tape covering on his poles (his poles also don’t have weight bands, as they are not required for IAAF, USATF-adult or NCAA competition).  
  6. Pole Vault Pole Tips
    1. Pole vault pole tips (old school – butt plugs) protect the bottom of the pole from damage when it strikes the box.  Vaulting without a tip can literally “split” the bottom of the pole.  I always taped the top of the plug to the pole so it doesn’t “EVER” fall out.
    2. They eventually wear out.  And if they get too worn, they are difficult to get out (think corkscrews, pocket knives and even hacksaws).  So check them every few weeks, and if they are worn, but new ones.  The cost is about $15.  On the inside of the tip is a number -that is the size of the plug (it’s also often written on the pole – usually under the tape you used to protect it from rubbing).  Or at worse, you can call the manufacturer or the sporting goods store (MF Athletic for example) and they can tell you what size you need.
  7. Pole Wear
    1. A well taken care of pole will last thousands of vaults.  But pole are incredibly vulnerable to scratches.  If there is a scratch in the pole where fiberglass fibers appear, particularly near the center of the pole, it’s probably not safe to continue to vault the pole.  So take care of them!!!
    2. Most poles that break already had damage.  Storing poles off of the ground (so they don’t get spiked, dropped on, driven over) is an important safety consideration.

Published by dahlman2017

Retired teacher and coach

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