Cracking the pole vault

On Thursday, March 9th, the 2012 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Track and Fields Championships, hosted by the University of Manitoba, held the women’s pole vault final in Max Bell Centre.

As the night progressed, the stands filled and the chants of fans and teams flooded the air with a sense of camaraderie and friendly competition.

“The entire track and field family is here, we have a lot of support,” said Bison pole-vaulter Alexandra Allen in an interview with the Manitoban, “so it’s nice to be able to share this moment with people we care about.”

In the middle of the 400-metre track — surrounded by runners, hurdlers, high and long jumpers — 12 top performing women pole-vaulters took to the field at 6 p.m. First year student, Melissa Richards and fourth year architecture student Alexandra Allen rounded out the U of M Bison women’s contingent, having qualified for two of the final three positions of the competition, in 11th and 10th place respectively.

Put plainly, the objective of the pole-vaulter is to, within the allotted three-attempts, take a running start, pole in hand, and upon reaching and planting said pole into the box (the area where the tip of the pole goes) to pull and contort themselves up over the bar using a combination of momentum and finesse.

Allen is a seasoned Bison-team pole-vaulter; this was her third time qualifying for the CIS championships in four years. “We were ranked very low. Top ten for me was what I really wanted . . . and we got that,” said Allen.

Bison high-jumper Arthur Buchanan found his way into the world of pole-vaulting in the last two years.

“When I first started I was expecting to be really good at it, but it’s actually a pretty steep learning curve,” he said.

Similarly, Richards comes from a gymnastics background.

“I was a competitive gymnast for many years,” said Richards, “once I retired I thought I would give pole-vaulting a try.”

Allen also came into the sport somewhat circuitously, beginning in other track and field sports.

“I got into pole vaulting at the end of high school,” explained Allen, “I just saw some people running with giant poles in their hands and I told my high school coach that ‘I think that’s awesome.’ The next day he introduced me to a pole vault coach.”

While both female athletes gave valiant efforts, neither made it to the podium. Richards, however, managed to set a new personal best.

“I came in and wanted to tie my PB [personal best], at least. I ended up jumping 20 centimetres over it, so I was pretty pumped about that!” remarked an enthused Richards in an interview with the Manitoban, “My PB was 350 and now it’s 370 [centimetres].”

According to Richards and Allen, rivalry exists despite feelings of camaraderie between teams: “We love each other, [but] we still like to out-jump each other.”