7 Reasons That The Pole Vault is Weird
It’s almost Christmas, dear readers, and what better and more seasonal topic is there to ruminate over than the pole vault? Well, possibly just about any other topic but, as I was lying in bed, unwell, with a bit of a fever, my thoughts naturally turned to the pole vault (well, whose wouldn’t?) and it struck me that the pole vault is really, really weird. Here’s why.
1. Titular Obscurity. We all know what the pole vault is, because we’re introduced to it at a young age. But what if we didn’t know? Other athletics events are titularly obvious; the high jump; the long jump, we know what to expect from those just by their names. But what would we expect to see if told that we were about to witness the pole vault? It sounds like someone jumping over a pole, or a cellar for keeping Polish people in. Or leaping over a Polish person. Or Polish people vaulting. Or a storage area for poles. What the name doesn’t convey is anything at all about what you can expect to see, which is a Russian man with a stick jumping over a bar (which doesn’t resemble the sort of bar that you’d want to frequent at all, it’s just another stick the other way up, balanced between two other sticks). It’s literally all sticks. I would rather watch the cellar full of Polish people.
2. It’s Cheating. The closest relation to the pole vault must surely be the high jump; an event in which athletes compete to see who can jump the highest – something that we can all identify with and can do ourselves at home. But the pole vault takes the noble pursuit of seeing who can leap the highest, and adds a long pole into the mix so that competitors can go three times as high as they would naturally be able to. But why? Of course you can go higher if you have a ruddy great stick to help you. I can swim much faster than normal if I’m wearing flippers and Speedos with jet propulsion, but that doesn’t make me a good swimmer. Fortunately, I doubt that they’re going to make the 100 metres backstroke with flippers and jet-thrusting-pants an Olympic event alongside the regular swimming any time soon, which is a good thing, because I’d look bloody stupid in that getup and I never win anything anyway. And it would be weird, and we already have the pole vault for that.
3. They’re Missing The Point. Pole vaulters vault to see who can vault the highest, but that’s not even the point of vaulting. Because vaulting originated as a way for the Dutch to cross dykes (everyone glad that I’m not AA Gill at this moment? Good, me too). So the true measure of the vaulter’s prowess should be distance. In short, they’re doing it wrong. Let’s make them vault over a river; that would be true to the origins of the sport and a damned sight more entertaining. They’re missing the point of their own sport.
4. Exclusion. It keeps better events out of the Olympics. Because I don’t need to know who can jump very high with the help of a big stick. I want to see people test the limits of human performance without artificial aid. Do you know what I want to know? I want to know how fast people can spin, because we just don’t know that. I propose the one minute spin, an event in which each competitor stands within a circle a metre in diameter and has a minute in which to spin as many times as possible (clockwise or anti-clockwise, it’s freestyle), and the winner is the person who attains the highest rate of RPM. That’s what I want to see, and then I want to watch them trying to walk back to their chairs and attempting to put their tracksuit bottoms back on. Because that sort of spectacle would make the Olympics ten times better.
5. The Equipment Is Unwieldy. And what right-minded person would take up the bloody sport in the first place? If I were tall, athletic and good at going over bars (rather than sitting behind them. Still, two out of three isn’t bad) I’d choose the high jump. Because it’s exactly the same as the pole vault, but you don’t have to lug a pole around with you as a part of your kit. Because taking up the pole vault is like taking up the double bass or the tuba. It’s absolutely ridiculous. What if you were reliant on public transport? How would you fancy trying to get on a rush-hour tube train with a seventeen foot long pole? It’s difficult enough with a modestly proportioned holdall or a large satchel. Okay, so you’d be able to hold the doors open for as long as it took to get on but, I speak with absolute confidence here, it would be a bit burdensome. In fact, it would be a faff. In much the same way that holding up the world was a faff for Atlas.
6. Double Entendre. There is literally nothing that you can say about pole vaulting that isn’t a double entendre. After all, it’s a sport which involves physically exerting yourself until you’re panting and thrusting a long, rigid shaft into a box before you briefly soar heavenward and eventually end up lying sweaty and exhausted on a mattress with a horizontal pole. And if there isn’t scope for euphemism, metaphor, allusion and plain seaside postcard bawdiness there then…um…well there just clearly is. And Wikipedia isn’t even trying for innuendo when it says, “…pole stiffness and length are important factors to a vaulter’s performance.” It is impossible to discuss the pole vault without innuendo.
7. Confusion. Because while the name pole vault, as we have established, is misleading, once you’ve accepted the illogic of it, you’re in for further frustration and disappointment. When I was four years old and I started school, you can have absolutely no idea how excited I was when I was told that in the school gym there was a vaulting horse. A vaulting horse, I thought with wide-eyed astonishment. That’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard in my life. They’ve got a horse that can vault! A raging stallion that can shoot itself into the sky with the aid of a pole! A pony that can rocket over a lofty bar! A mare that can soar through the air and land on a mattress! They’ve got a wondrous, magical creature! The most awesome beast I ever will see! They’ve got an athletic super-horse! They’ve got…that wooden thing in the corner that looks like a weird shed for midgets? What the hell is that? Is life always going to be like this?