A popular track and field event, pole vaulting demands speed and agility. The process of running and using a pole to vault over a barrier has a defined history from ancient times to modern day. A modern Olympic event from 1896, it has seen a revolution in terms of the techniques and technology used.
The existence of vaulting equipment started life in a world far from competitive sport. There is evidence of practice by ancient Greeks and Egyptians, where warriors are depicted as vaulting over walls. The tactical advantage of vaulting walls quickly has obvious advantages in tactical situations, with war being one of them. Early poles were made from tree limbs and bamboo.
In marshy areas poles were a practical way of helping people bypass natural obstacles in Holland and several counties within the UK. It certainly had time and cost saving benefits compared to bridges for example.
The first known competition flips the idea of pole vaulting as we see it today. It was based on distance covered rather than height. It wasn’t until 1850 that the first height based pole vault competition begun. It was added to the exercises of the Turner gymnastic clubs in Germany.
Bamboo was still used in Olympic poles up to the Second World War. From the 1950’s poles were starting to be manufactured using fiberglass. This material led to the production of flexible poles allowing vaulters to achieve greater heights. Wrapped with pre-cut sheets of fiberglass, modern poles are able to bend more easily under the compression experienced when an athlete takes off. Poles were lighter, stronger, more flexible and allowed greater speed on the approach. In the last few years carbon fibre has been added to the mix to create poles with a lighter weight. As a result of this technology the Olympic gold winning height almost doubled in less than a century. In 1896 the winning height was 3.30 metres compared to the still world record of 6.14 metres set in 1994. The 6 metre barrier is a prestigious barrier to overcome for any pole vaulter.
Advances were not only made in the construction of the pole but also landing areas. Early landing areas were simply an area of sawdust or sand. As advances in pole technology led to greater heights being reached, the landing areas began to use foam mats to minimize the risk of injury.
Pole vaulting was only introduced as an Olympic event for women in the millennium year.