Pole vaulting is a unique track and field sport with very detailed rules. The concept of the sport is easy to understand, but there are specific regulations set in place to deter cheating. Pole vaulting requires precision technique to adequately catapult one's body over the crossbar suspended in mid air. In pole vaulting, each attempt to clear the crossbar is called a trial. When an athlete breaks a rule, the penalty will result in either a failed trail or the pole vaulter may be eliminated from the event.
Pole vaulting requires a 40 meter long runway. At the end of the runway, there is a meter long box fixed to the ground where the athletes plant their poles before jumping. The crossbar, made of carbon-fiber material, is held in the air by two uprights on either side of the landing pit. The landing pit is usually a foam cushion designed to prevent pole vaulters from injuring themselves when landing.
Pole vaulting has few regulations regarding the make or design of the pole. An athlete's pole can be any length or diameter a pole vaulter chooses. In addition, the pole can also be made of any type of material or combination of materials. Commonly, poles are made of fiberglass or carbon-fiber. These types of poles are able to successfully transfer a vaulter's energy, while remaining sturdy and flexible.
An athlete's pole must be certified and properly marked with the manufacturer pole rating. The pole ranking has to be visible to the judges and placed above the hand-hold position on the pole. In order to use a pole in competition, an athlete's weight must be equal to or below the manufacturer pole ranking.
Pole vaulters are allowed to tape their poles at a maximum of 2 layers of tape in the same section. In addition, athletes must clearly mark with a circular ring the top most hand-hold position on the pole. A pole vaulter's hands are not allowed to raise higher than the top hand-hold position during a trial, or the jump will be called a foul. A trial will also be considered a foul if a vaulter moves their bottom hand over their top hand while jumping.
A foul is a failed trial that results in a missed jump for a pole vaulter. Fouls can occur several different ways, but most commonly a foul is ruled when an athlete is unable to clear the crossbar. If the crossbar is dislodged from the uprights by either the athlete or the pole, the jump will be considered a foul. A foul will also be called if the athlete stabilizes the bar in any manner during the jump. Finally, a foul is appointed if the athlete does not attempt their jump in the 2 minute allotted time frame.
The chief judge will announce a starting height for the crossbar at the beginning of the event. Athletes are allowed to pass at any height, but an athlete must complete one successful trial to be considered eligible to place in the event. A pole vaulter is eliminated from competition after three consecutive unsuccessful trials at any height. If a pole vaulter fails to clear the crossbar, they must attempt their second or third trial directly after the miss. Clearing a given height grants an athlete three more attempts at the next chosen height.
If there is a tie for first place, the athlete with the least amount of attempts to clear the winning height is crowned the champion. A tie may also be broken based on which athlete had the fewest number of fouls throughout the entire competition. However, if there is still a tie for first place, then the two athletes compete in a jump off. The height of the crossbar will alternate +/- 3 inches until one contestant prevails.
There are 4 judges that monitor a pole vaulting competition. The chief judge decides the starting height of the crossbar and officiates the takeoff area. A second judge is in charge of observing the runway and controlling the time limit for each participant. The two remaining judges are stationed at the end of the runway and their jump is to watch an athlete's hands and the crossbar during the trial. These judges enforce the pole rules and make sure each successful trial was legal. All four judges are responsible for making sure athletes abide by equipment regulations.
The sport of pole vaulting is a combination of physical and mental strength. Athletes will pass on lower heights because they want to save energy for future tougher trials. However, mentally, it is an advantage for athletes to begin their first trial at a height they know they can clear. A successful trial will allow an athlete to place at the competition, and also calm their nerves. Confidence is vitally important for pole vaulters attempting heights they have yet to clear.
If a pole breaks during a trial, the attempt is not considered a foul. Instead, the pole vaulter is given the opportunity to redo the current trial. It is important for pole vaulting teams to have backup poles in case a freak accident occurs. Athletes are not allowed to borrow another participant's pole unless they are given consent from the owner. There are strict rules regarding poles set in place to prevent equipment malfunction from happening.
Pole vaulters are only allowed to apply chalk or rosin on their hands before the start of a trial. Tape is not permitted on the hands unless an athlete has an open wound on their hand. However, athletes can tape their wrists for added support. Pole vaulters are also allowed to tape their poles to increase their grip. In addition, it is against the rules for pole vaulters to wear gloves while competing.
There are a few factors that help determine the starting height set by the chief judge. First, the height must be respectable to the competition. If the event is a final, the starting height may be determined based on the results from the qualification rounds. A second factor influencing the starting height is the weather. A chief judge may lower the height if rain or heavy wind may influence the results.