The pole vault world record aftermath

Anyone even vaguely interested in athletics will have seen in the last week that Renaud Lavillenie broke the 21 year old pole vault world record. The long standing record held by Sergey Bubka, a legend of the sport. What was most shocking about the world record was not that it happened (the Frenchman has been on fire this season), but what happened next….

After clearing the World record height of 6.16m, Renaud then attempted a further record height of 6.21m. The attempt began the same with the new world record holder charging confidently down the runway, planting the pole into the box as he has done many times before….

He missed the box. He planted the pole and missed the box. Instead of connecting with the pole and swinging towards the new bar the pole stopped moving forward, the stored energy of the fibre glass pole spitting the athlete back down the runway in the most offensive of rejections.

This kind of rejection happens rarely at the lower levels of pole vault, but usually the athlete walks away shaken but unscathed. I have never seen this happen with an elite, especially indoors when there is no wind. Unfortunately, the awkward landing of Renaud caused him to split his heel open, an injury which needed 10 stitches and rules him out of the Indoor World Championships in a fortnights time. This freak injury has spurred some interesting conversation.

I have spoken to more than one person who believes that he should not have attempted 6.21m. This I find a very interesting observation, perhaps driven by our collective hindsight. If he’d just swung through three times then maybe this wouldn’t even have been bought up. Again, its supremely rare to see any vaulter not take their full allocation of attempts, and especially and athlete as enthusiastic and full of jumping as Renaud, you’d never expect him to back away from the challenge.

Should his coach have stepped in and stopped him? Now theres the question, I am by no means criticising his coach or him, clearly what they do and their mind set to the sport is producing much better results than anything I’ve managed but lets consider the situation fully.

  1. He’s just jumped a world record. I did mention earlier that its extremely rare to see a vaulter not take their full quota of attempts, but the exceptions in recent vault history would be Isinbayeva and Bubka, the womens and now ex-mens world record holders. Post record breaking clearance they would both tend to withdraw without attempting another height. Now some may say this was to put the odd centimetre on the record at a time to maximise profits (specifically for Bubka) but just think of the emotions after clearing a world record. State management must go out the window, and be real difficult to get yourself back to a place to perform at your best again quickly.
  2. Apparently there was at least a 20 minute gap after his clearance, some say 30. Now I don’t know what rule book they used, pretty sure  IAAF only allow a maximum of 5 minutes between consecutive attempts, but this excessive time period wasn’t helped by Renaud being swamped by the paparazzi and organisers, a supreme photo opportunity with the raw emotion still high, but not an ideal distraction to ready yourself for the next jump. 20 minutes, full of answering questions and taking photos, and then get yourself back on the runway to produce the biggest jump of your life? It would’ve been impressive but should he have pulled at this point?
  3. The smile. Watch the video again, obviously the guy is really happy, can’t blame him he’s just jumped a world record height, but this is not a standard part of his jump preparation. Where is his mind in this moment? Should his coach notice this going on and jump on the runway to stop what happened next? I’m going to go with probably not, but its worth thinking about….

So to reiterate, absolutely zero criticism of Renaud and his coach, theres clearly something (if not everything) about their program thats working and if that happens to be their unrelenting drive to continuously push forward no matter what, then of course they won’t stop him taking the next jump. But say you were in that coaches position would you? should you? could you make that call?

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