50 years ago today (part 2)

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50 years ago today (part 2)

Postby oldvaulter » Sat Jun 22, 2013 12:30 pm

The test weight of vaulting poles was very imprecise. I found out from the manufacturer that the difference between each pole specification was simply a single extra wrap of fiberglass. Thus a 150 had one more wrap than a 140; a 160 one more wrap than a 150, etc. The extra wrap on the 150 made it so much stiffer than a 140 it would probably have been more accurate to consider the difference to be closer to 20 pounds than to 10. I was stuck between two poles.

I started breaking poles frequently, and when I wasn’t breaking the poles, I was seriously over-bending which made good vaulting impossible. I broke twenty (expensive!) poles that season. At first the school bought poles for me, then my father bought a few, and then the high school booster club bought them for me. I was unaware at the time that the entire town of Claremont was avidly following my season. (In those days, in Southern California, track and field was heavily covered by all the newspapers. I got a lot of publicity that year.)

The poles were very temperature sensitive, getting stiffer in cool weather and turning into wet noodles in the warm Southern California afternoons. I struggled with the poles in the afternoon meets, but did better in the night meets with the cooler temperatures. At the Bellflower National Records Relays in April I vaulted 14’8 ½” which upped my nation-leading mark and made me the second-highest high school vaulter all-time. At the Mt. Sac Relays later that month I very nearly got 15’ 3/4”. All three tries were very close. Both of these events were night meets.

By May the poles just wouldn’t hold me any more. I was over-bending and breaking poles even in cooler weather. And I still couldn’t bend the 150. The big season-ending meets were coming up and I was in trouble. I began to think creatively in search of a solution. I got some fiberglass cloth and some kind of flexible epoxy and added an extra layer of fiberglass to a four-foot section of one of my 140s. I placed the extra fiberglass right at the center of the bend. I hoped it would stiffen the pole just enough. I broke the pole on my first vault with it.

I managed to qualify for the CIF Southern Section Finals by intentionally running slow to minimize over-bending. CIF Finals was a big meet, held at night. I managed to clear 14’ running slow, but over-bent so badly at 14’4” that I literally went under the bar on all three attempts. The pole bent and wouldn’t come back at all. I ended up in fourth place, just barely qualifying for the California State Meet. It was my first defeat of the year. I was devastated, more by the fact that I didn’t have a usable pole than by having lost the meet.

(continued in part 3)
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