Tips for Pole Vaulting in the Wind
BY OWEN HEARD
To be a formidable athlete, you have to be able to have 'your day' even on someone else's day. If that means you have to deal with challenging weather conditions, so be it.
Although it is much easier said than done, you don't want to be the person who doesn't make a standard, qualify for the next round, or even finish a competition because the track was too wet or the wind was too strong. If your competitors can brave unfavourable conditions, so can you (and if they can't – there is your advantage).
The wind is probably the most commonly worried-about condition which affects Pole Vault. It is unpredictable, inconsistent, and can dictate an athlete's mental state.
CAN YOU POLE VAULT IN THE WIND?
Yes – wind can have a minor effect on performance… sometimes (if you have a 5m/s tailwind, you might run a bit faster and need to change up poles), but trying to control it, avoid it, or worry about it can prove highly detrimental. Some days the wind is not ideal, but it is the same for everyone you are up against and those who choose to let it affect them bear the burdens.
Here is a breakdown of the windy conditions which you might face and some tips and tricks to nullify these:
TIPS FOR POLE VAULTING IN A HEADWIND
When the wind is blowing in your face, sometimes you wish you could spin the track around 180° so that it is working in your favour. But unfortunately, you can't do that, so stop thinking about it and follow the advice below!
1. ACCEPT THAT THE CONDITIONS ARE NOT PERFECT
Focussing on the wind blowing the wrong way will not serve you. Use it to your advantage, not your disadvantage. This will phase the other competitors, so stay clear-minded and accept that it is what it is.
2. BE PREPARED TO USE SMALLER POLES
You might need to go down a pole if the wind is really strong, but as long as you are still jumping, you're doing a great job.
3. PULL YOUR RUN-UP IN
You may need to bring your run-up marker closer to the box by about 10cm or so if the wind is causing you to take off slightly further away – ask a coach to look at this for you, or get a friend/fellow athlete to tell you where your take-off-foot is landing. You can make the necessary adjustments based on this.
TIPS FOR POLE VAULTING IN SWIRLING WINDS
1. DON'T RUSH IT
If the wind is inconsistent, utilise your full 1 minute of jumping time to wait for the ideal moment to run. If you get on the runway and it is a blistering headwind, don't be scared to wait until the last 15 seconds. The wind might settle right down, and you might end up with a tailwind if you're really lucky!
2. HAVE ANOTHER POLE WAITING
Bring the pole down from what you plan on using, to the beginning of the runway with you. If things get really hairy and the wind won't settle for your jump, you might want to perform a last-second pole switch. This means you haven't wasted an attempt by bailing out on the bigger pole. At least you've given it a go – sometimes you can make an unexpected clearance doing this.
3. MAKE A WINDSOCK
Keeping an eye on the windsock and waiting for the perfect moment to jump is an essential strategy. Sometimes, there might not be a windsock. Grab something from around you to construct your own makeshift one (a piece of cloth, string, a vest, a long piece of tape, a lanyard, anything - get creative!).
Tie this round a nearby post, pole stand, chalk bowl, etc and try to have it positioned about halfway down the runway. You've now just done yourself and everyone around you a huge favour. This is a must-do for any pole vault competition.
TIPS FOR POLE VAULTING IN A CROSSWIND
START WITH YOUR POLE TIP TO ONE SIDE
Advanced pole vaulters know that when your pole is raised in the air as you are about to run, it is common practice to have your pole tip positioned slightly to the left of your body, with the pole held slightly across yourself (and vice versa for left-handed vaulters). If you have a wind coming from left-to-right, this may push your pole somewhat to the right of the box as you plant, so ensuring you start with your pole tip slightly further sideways can prevent this.
Likewise, you may want to start with the pole tip positioned less across yourself for a right-to-left crosswind. However, this is all personal preference and is no longer essential. Some athletes naturally adapt to the crosswind as they run down and plant.
TIPS FOR POLE VAULTING IN A TAILWIND
1. MOVE YOUR RUN-UP BACK
You may need to move your marker back anywhere from 5cm to 30cm purely due to the tailwind pushing you closer to the box as you run. Try to figure this out during warm-up, vaulting with your run pulled back around 10-20cm at first (depending on wind strength), and then adjust even further from here if necessary. Figuring this out before your opening height can help you avoid failed attempts that other athletes might be facing.
2. BE PREPARED TO USE BIGGER POLES
If the wind makes you run faster, this may result in you requiring the next pole up. In this case, you are in pole-vaulter's heaven (bigger poles mean bigger heights!). Just enjoy yourself, and it will be worth it if you can muster up the courage to jump.
ULTIMATELY - POLE VAULTING IS MENTAL
These small tips and tricks are meaningless if you don't have self-belief and mental resilience. Overthinking, overanalysing, and lack of confidence will put your entire competition to a halt.
Therefore, mental state is the most paramount factor, so always believe in your ability!
ABOUT OWEN HEARD
Currently 3rd in the UK rankings, Owen has been pole vaulting for many years, and you may recall seeing him compete in the Men's Pole Vault Final in this year's Commonwealth Games for Team England.
He is also a hurdler and a Team Pacer athlete, making him incredibly knowledgeable and skilled at what he does, especially as he's only 20 years old!
Click here to view his Team England profile.