Athlete

  • Current Welsh indoor record holder in the pole vault
  • Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 (5th)
  • Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 (5th)
  • Former team captain (Wales).
  • Age-group and senior international representation (Wales and GB). 
  • Five podium medals at senior British Championships.

 

Below is a self-reported account of the Commonwealth Games final in 2014 (written soon after):

 

The build-up

The competition was on the Friday. This was the second last day of athletics competition, and the women’s final was scheduled for the Saturday. This meant a lot of time spent in the village trying to stay strong and avoid the free gluten (not gluten-free) everywhere. Cakes, cookies, pastries. Luckily, availability of steak kept me on the straight and narrow. All week in the village you’re seeing people compete and finish and your focus needs to stay on your own competition. As the days drag by, you try and keep yourself entertained.

All week the weather report was forecasting rain for the Friday evening. I took the mindset that this wasn’t going to be an issue. All year I love jumping in the same competitions as other great jumpers and enjoying the inspiration you can get from jumping in the same competition, come championship time my focus changes slightly and it becomes about beating people. Rain is the great leveler. No one is really great at jumping in the rain, its super unpleasant and if you were going into a competition as the favourite, I would hate it to rain. I was ranked 10th so rain “ruining” our competition could only bode well for me. As the week progressed however, the rain on the Friday slowly switched with the good weather for the Saturday. This meant the boys were going to have a good clean competition, the girls however were to struggle (the girls comp was not “my games”, but I do suggest you look up a video of the competition, horrendous).

Anyway, this is how the line-up looked before hand, not that I give much credence to rankings before the competition:

Ranked 11th going in, it could be worse
Ranked 9th going in, it could be worse

Warm-up

Warm-up went well. Or as well as can be expected. The key to major championships (and I say this with all the wealth of knowledge of someone who has been to 2, and that’s if you count the Commonwealth Games) is being confident in your process. If everything is well-rehearsed and practiced, you can absorb any minor fluctuations in execution easily. This includes imposed call-rooms, having to break your warm-up up, maybe not rolling your easy poles over right away.

For whatever reason through warm-up, my poles just weren’t quite rolling over like they normally do. No worries, I just took a couple of extra jumps to get used to it. I threw down a pretty good jump on the 5.10 14.6 (pole vault numbers to cater for the pole vault geeks), a pole that the rest of the outdoor season had been too small to jump on. I did one more warm-up on the 5.10 14.0 (a stiffer pole) a pole I had been starting my competitions on the rest of the year. I made the bed, but it threw me a bit too vertical to be safe for a first jump of the competition. decisions were made and I was to open the competition at a modest 5m on the 14.6.

The Competition

Between warm-up and competition there is usually a wait, this day wasn’t too bad as I was coming in at the second bar, but still the formality of the line-up and being presented to the crowd and a mental state to maintain.

The first jump of the competition rolled around pretty quickly 5m:

It’s always good to get that first jump out of the way. The relief that you haven’t forgotten everything that you practiced in warm-up 30 minutes ago (yes, this is an actual thought that may go through some pole vaulters heads), and the relief that you’ve cleared a bar and at least have a height registered (no heighting is the worst) but not being too relieved that you lose focus for the next bar

Overall this was a really comfortable bar, but even though I’m on a really small pole for me, its still not rotating through too quickly, so rather than push poles we stay on the same pole for the next bar.

The next bar I took was 5.20m, here’s my first attempt:

Again, a comfortable clearance, but again the pole not getting too smushed despite its moderate stiffness. This would be an easy thought to get carried away with and want to push onto a stiffer pole, but no, things are ok, lets take the next bar on the same pole.

The bar then goes to 5.35m and this is where things get interesting. My first attempt we didn’t manage to catch on camera, but I wasn’t too far away. This was the first attempt of the competition where I managed to get my run-up on. I hit my marks nicely and was able to run into the take-off better. Having confidence in my run then meant that going into my second attempt I could start thinking about the next of my cues, hitting the arms at take-off. The second attempt is shown here:

This one may have looked like a bit of a cruddy attempt but it was the first time I hit the pole at take-off all competition, it just ran away from me and I didn’t have time to get back, this meant that finally it was time to move up to the 5.10 14.0, but with only one last attempt left and this being a seasons best bar. I pulled the stands in 10 cm and committed to throwing down hard, the final attempt is shown here:

Cue douchey arrogant looking celebrations, it was good times.

I made my way back to my seat and went back into my heart-focussed breathing to try and bring my arousal back down so I can take my next jump from the same emotional state as all my others, tough when you’re so pumped.

I was at the back end of the jumping order so my first attempt at the next bar, 5.45m two guys had already gone clear, this meant due to my failures at the previous height, clearing now would put me in third. Shawn Barber of Canada and Luke Cutts of England had gone clear and Steve Lewis passed this bar. Me and my coach (Scott Simpson) had discussed prior to the competition that the first priority was to gain a medal, this was the jump that would put me into that position. My first attempt at 4.45m:

After this unsuccessful attempt, again we knew that if anyone went clear at this bar, even me clearing this same bar on my next attempt would put me in fourth, which is not what we were targeting. Jax Thoirs, the talented Scot cleared on his second attempt, which meant there was no point attempting 5.45m anymore so I passed my next attempt and went straight to 5.55m, where due to one failure at 5.45m I would only have two attempts (if you can follow that?!?!).

Luke Cutts and Steve Lewis both went clear first time at 5.55m, but failures from Shawn Barber and Jax Thoirs left me with a chance of Bronze with a clearance on my first attempt at 5.55m:

If you watched the tv coverage you’ll notice they didn’t show the artistic camera angle shot up the pole from the box on that jump? I wish they did because I smashed that thing to pieces. The go pro they had set up on the top of the box that we plant the pole into had fallen into the box, I only noticed this two steps out as I was planting the pole, but because of this it meant that I got to take my first attempt at 5.55m again. Initially they were going to let me go again at the back of the jumping order, but after some kerfuffle they changed their mind and said I had to go again straight away.

This complicated set of circumstances is one of the reasons why pole vault misses out as a spectator event, I can barely follow whats going on, and I was there and am now writing a commentary on it and i can barely follow what was going on. The average crowd member has no chance, but anyway, my “first“ attempt at 5.55m……

….was unsuccessful, but close. This leaves me with one final attempt to win a Commonwealth Bronze medal, the discussion with my coach ends with me needing to change up to the biggest pole of the competition and my normal pole the rest of the season a 5.10 13.7 (slightly stiffer again), another third attempt change up, can I some how create another last ditch clearance? I step onto the runway, pole in hand ready to take my attempt and they decide to start a medal ceremony!!! Spending the next two minutes trying to maintain my mental focus (I know two minutes doesn’t sound long, but it felt like forever) I finally get back on the runway for my final shot at 5.55m, a medal at the commonwealth games, and all of my hopes and dreams coming true in one instant:

Ah well, only another 3 and a half years till the next one. Celebrating my failure was not planned. I took off and got stood up by the pole, hanging on for dear life so that I didn’t fall into the box, my enormous weight re-bends the pole and pings me towards the side of the bed. I land on my feet on the bed, but momentum carries me straight off and into a run. I can hear the crowd cheering already, so instinctively I start waving my arms and enjoying the applause. Unfortunately you don’t get to see this whole palava on this video. The crowd were amazing during this competition and I will never forget the experience.

After I went out, the other two boys attempting the bar failed and I think there was a jump off or something for first and second. I don’t think I was really paying attention, “my games” were over.

Here’s how things ended up:

Equal 5th, with the same guy I came equal 5th with in Delhi, what odds could I have got on that outcome?
Equal 5th, with the same guy I came equal 5th with in Delhi, what odds could I have got on that outcome?

Other distractions

Somewhere in the middle of all this I also got stung by a wasp. I think it was before the third attempt at 5.35m, I was sat in my seat and felt something on the back of my neck, I instinctively brushed my neck and got stung for my troubles. I don’t know if this jacked my adrenaline even higher, or if wasp sting intravenously is allowable by WADA, but I still managed to get over the bar.

Anyway, that’s my version of events as they happened, hope you found it interesting, comments and feedback welcome. Any criticism about my pole selections or poor performance will be met with waves of tears, so please be nice 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Athlete

  1. Your writing style makes me laugh – even your amazingly bad but funny poetry! I’m a writer and one of my characters is a pole vaulter, which is why I started following you. But I enjoy your posts and read them not just for research purposes. Wishing you a good winter season, Julia.

    1. I am equal parts flattered and offended by your comments. Can’t say I’m a good example of an average pole vaulter, then again, we’re all weird so I’m not sure there is an average pole vaulter. I look forward to your book, not enough people write for the super niche pole vault market 🙂

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