News letter 2012 #3 - Jan Johnsons Pole Vault Safety and Technique

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Jan Johnsons Pole Vault Safety and Technique News letter 2012 #3


Santa Barbara Easter Relays Required Landing Zone Experimental Contest #5

Contested at La Playa stadium on the campus of Santa Barbara City College on the 50th anniversary of the first 16’ outdoor vault.



L to R Victor Berezovskiy, Jan Johnson, John Uelses (guest of honor), Mike Morris, Steve Morris, Tom ???, Brooks Morris. La Playa Stadium the site of the first outdoor 16’ by John Uelses vault in 1962



SBCC landing pad with 15x 15 chalk box starting at the zero. Note Safety Max box collar did not move all day even though the pit moved back 4”

The Safety Max collar protects falls on to the interior walls and the rim by reducing the impact of falls to these critical areas by 92%. Since 2003 we have had 14 catastrophic accidents to these areas. Soon an ASTM standard specification will be in place.

SBCC has approximately 12” from the edge of the landing pit to the rail.


During the course of the Easter Relays open pole vault competition on two vaults were recorded as cautions!!

Below: a few of key comments from our net work of over 30,000 news letter participants. Here are most of them…….It appears

Hi Jan,

Loving the responses!


At the Illinois Prep Top Times meet held at IWU over March 23rd and 24th, I met up with Geza Ehrentreu and Glenn Cothern who a couple of right hand officials for Ron MacGraw, one of the Assistant Executive Directors of the IHSA and the new Section 4 representative to the NFHS Track & Field Rules Committee for 2012.  At the meet and during the Class A Boys’ Competition, I outlined the general ideas of the landing sector/zone, the “Cautions” idea and how these penalties are incurred and used against the competitors.  The idea was taken well, but with some hold back regarding how it would work.

This is when it gets really good!  Fortunately or unfortunately (however you would like to look at it), the jumpers could not have shown the need for this rule change if I had scripted it.  As the competition closed to the final group and with the general idea of where the zone would be, the jumpers started landing on or outside the zone several times.  Not taking numbers, but, I believe, at least two of the top vaulters, if not more, would have been removed with the three strike rule.


Following the completion of the Boys' vault, Geza made a bee-line across the runway and right to me.  He stated that IHSA would be greatly interested in seeing this idea make it into the light.  He asked for data and that we start keeping track of age divisions and genders of the vaulters where the “cautions” are marked.  I stated I had already started to keep these stats with my own competition and I’ll request others in Illinois do the same.  Depending on how much data could be kept at a meet, the Official may even create a scatter chart (as Jan had first sent) may be included showing the area of the pit where the cautions occurred.


Hearing this, I have full intentions upon creating the boundary lines for the Conference, Sectional and State Track meets and marking the athletes and should receive full support of the other Officials as we are all under the same feelings with this change!


What cha' think?




Jim Johnson
Central Illinois Pole Vault Safety Chairman

+10 year Boys/Girls State Pole Vault Official


Jimmy J,

As I have said many times. If we can pull this off it will be ground breaking….as you and Mike Fontan,a and Craig Cooper (here in So Cal) have all said. It must be cut and dried, simple and fair.

We simply need more emphasis on landing in the middle and less over gripping and bending.


I the idea of the pole rating and vaulters weight is very dangerous in my opinion. I have been a high school coach for 22 years in western NY Buffalo area and we all know how our weather is up here. We only get to have air time a very short part of the year, unless you have an indoor facility and that is far and few between. To get an athlete on a pole rated for their weight, you really need an outstanding athlete. I believe it is unproductive to have a stiffer pole, then you need to shorten the length, to get proper penetration and to hit the landing area is very difficult, so a good vaulter turns into an average one. This also could hurt their chances for a college looking at them and better their futures.

Of course Pole design and manufacturing is evolving and poles are becoming much more convenient for the high school vaulter but are they really hitting their full potential??

thanks for listening BUFFALO SOLDIERS!!

David Radley

New York



The weight rule has been no friend to PV safety (more on this in a future edition).





Good afternoon. I am a PV coach here in Illinois. I've coached a lot of beginners as well as a few collegiate and elite vaulters. I AM ALL FOR MAKING THE VAULT SAFER! It definitely gets scary around the pits. Your brother brought this up to me at a meet earlier this year. I've had some time to mull it over, and I've brought it up with a couple other coaches as well. It sounds like you are on the right track (from all the threads I've read). Based on conversations that I've had with Coaches and Vaulters the positives are:
+ it's cheap to implement. (Could we use athletic tape to do this?)

+ It keeps kids safe.

+ I like the 3 chances idea, especially if any of them are a make. (They still count as a make...but if it is on a 3rd foul, you are out for the remainder of competition)

+ It sounds like the support is there from the community, once you work out the wording and logistics.

+ I think the official at the vault should get to make the call (Where they can override a foul/or give a foul if the standard placer doesn't make the right call)

+ (Personally I'd like to see my vaulters on poles 10-15 lbs over their body weight, and vaulting safely, then the weight rule is a non issue for us.) However, I liked Mike F.'s  idea that we tweak the weight rule. He said to make it so that a vaulter could jump on a pole no smaller than 10lbs. under their weight. I'd be all for that if we started with 5 lbs. and see how that goes before going to 10lbs.  Most vaulters that this becomes an issue with , especially girls in my experience because they weigh 1 or 2 lbs over their pole, could still jump safely on a pole that is only 5 lbs under their weight. I think this would still be safe, yet accommodating. I get nervous at weighing 10lbs. over a poles rating, but I get the intent.

Negatives (many have already been brought up on the threads)

-We MUST Educate other coaches and officials so that they are very clear on the rule. (It should be extremely clear or cut and dry like mentioned so far)

- One coach brought up to me that he felt that if we continue to micro manage the rules that schools may begin to get rid of the vault all together. (I will be forwarding him these threads so he can see where the conversation is at this point)

- There was a lot of debate about a jumper who completes a jump and then lands in the pit safely but in/or on the Zone marked out. However, I had not seen all of the discussion about this before I mentioned it to other coaches.

-there was debate about whether or not cautions should be counted during warm ups. (My suggestion is that they get 3 cautions during warm ups and 3 during the competition. If they get 3 fouls during warm ups, then they would be removed from the competition at the officials discretion.  Cautions should not carry over from Warm ups to competition. (Run throughs as a warm up in the middle of competition should be counted toward "warm up" cautions.)  However, I'm on board either way.

-Cautions should not count in a tie breaker. They are what they are, a caution or removal from event at the point of a 3rd caution. Pole vaulting, while it should be done safe, has the objective to see who can jump the highest.  I'd hate to see a kid who tied for the win in a meet, who bailed in a jump to stay safe, and have that count against them. (seems a little too complicated to score too)

- Athletes exiting the pit. (Seems a little too specific to me, and I'd hate to see a kid get a caution because they got off the pit in the back or side due to force of habit instead of the front)  I think what Jim L. said was that they must exit the pit under full control or their own control. I like that wording better than making kids get out of the front of the pit.

I hope this helps. Good luck. If I can ever do anything to help, let me know.

Take care,

James Houston
Fifth Grade Teacher

Thomas Jefferson Elementary

1900 Oxford Way

Joliet, IL

Hi Jan,

I find this PV rule proposal fascinating. It can only help coaches to promote safe vaulting and even more specifically, timely structured training progressions so young athletes can learn to 'finish' on the preferred or eventually 'required' landing zone. We already have sectors in the sister field events in track and the existence of one in the vault has been a long time coming. It costs almost nothing and if the new rule could help change the weigh-in standards and allow HS athletes to jump on poles under their weight but with lower grips of course, this wouldn't challenge high school budgets with selective pole inventory. There are plenty of ways for a coach to be educated and for knowledge to be gleaned and shared to better understand the physics and concepts going on in the vault; the changing weight as the grip moves down the pole and why an athlete is missing the safe landing zone etc. The new rule will push even more for coaches to look for answers "why my vaulter is coming up short" etc, and so on. Because you darn well know if an athlete keeps getting DQ'd from competitions, regardless of PR's and clearnances, parents and supporters are gonna get involved and people will speak up! Another question coming to mind is if a certain amount of caution eliminations in a season should expire the vaulter from participating in the event all together? Maybe more of an institutional policy and considertaion. Touchy stuff to take something away from the youngster, but considering the risk, and putting the HS-level pole vault in jeopardy, could be something to debate about.

I too find it interesting the competitor with the infractions in the trial comp. indeed had the highest jump.  With reward comes some risk?!, especially holding higher (assuming he was) and taking off further from the desired vertical plane. How many proficient Collegiate and Elite Vaulters would be given a yellow flag in their tenure of big jumps? Landing outside of the PLZ or RLZ does happen. Like the implement leaving the sector zone, it allows for some error correction just as the PLZ or coaches box is supposed to do now. The new rule will put a larger emphasis on correcting the issue and promoting more safety. As a surfer-mountain biker on the central coast turned Decathlete "run fast and hold high" was an easy (and dangerous) technical cue to grab onto (thanks Bradshaw ;-) ). I survived, but at times I wish I learned progressively different as I would've seen a lot of yellow back then.

Regardless of the result (clearance or miss), the new rule and it's caution-jumps doesn’t necessarily penalize the vaulter, but encourages the athlete and his coaches to go back to the drawing board and gain consistency in components of the vault that will allow for optimal penetration and a safe landing and eventually better performance, and this is great thing in the long run for our sport.

Apologies for the lengthy brain dump here. Sometime we'll have to link up for some pole acrobatics and surf/skate shredding.

Thanks for the shares Jan. Keep em coming.

Former Central Coaster

Robert Nooney




Though a retired coach now, my 25 years as a pole vault coach lead me to the following opinion: I personally recommend that any caution be counted as a miss.  Competition can still end with a withdrawal, 3 consecutive misses or a third caution.  My rationale is that the spirit of all this is to force vaulters to vault safely or not vault.  Any unsafe execution should disqualify the attempt.  This would end all the discussion about whether or not to count a third-caution clearance.  If counted as miss, it wouldn't be recorded as a clearance.

All comment agrees that clear wording is necessary to avoid misinterpretation.  Though everyone commenting in this newsletter clearly know the intended meaning of the suggested rule, the first sentence of the proposal is atrocious.  Here is the current suggested wording:

During the course of competition, In the completion of a pole vault jump, the vaulter must land so that upon first contact of his or her entire body including head, arms, hands, legs and feet must be within a 15' wide x 14.5" caution zone box clearly marked on top of the landing surface.

I suggest: During the course of competition, in the completion of a pole vault attempt, the first contact with the landing surface made by any part of the vaulter's entire body, including head, arms, hands, legs, feet, etc., must be within a 15' wide X 14.5' deep caution box clearly marked on top of the landing surface.

Whether or not you like my suggested wording, I suggest you describe the intent of the proposed rule to an English expert and have them review the proposal to make sure it says what is intended.  I really think that much of the ambiguity in our sport is the result of poorly worded rules.  For the safety of our vaulters, let's get this wording right.

There is much comment on this proposal.  I am glad to see everyone realizing the necessity for action.  What I caution against is paralysis of comment.  Please don't get discouraged if there seems to be no consensus on the exact rule.  Make a proposal that is reasonable, and then I challenge all vault coaches to support whatever is proposed.  There will always be a chance to tweak it further as experience dictates.

Harry  (Still vaulting at 64, though not very high, with all my jumps landing in the suggested safe area.)

Harry McDonald

Educational Consultant

11917 W. 143rd St.

Olathe, KS 66062

Home- 913-897-9630

Cell- 816-863-7580

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Thanks so much for your input. I agree with you and your recommendations.

Sorry about my poor English skills. Mrs. Larimer, my 11th grade English teacher said I’d never graduate from college!

Thanks for your participation.



thanks for the info.  It was a good read and interesting (of course) to me. 
My two cents worth -  " I would like to see us move away from the pole weight rule and move towards this rule and the real safety that this rule actually gets to the heart of the problem with dangerous vaulting - much more so then with a weight rule or expecting us coaches to buy bigger pits."

In actuality, my school could not afford a large pit for me 8 years ago... we were only able to purchase a "minimum" sized pit...and guess what - we have had much less incidents of injury and just have to be more careful and diligent about their vaulting.

Take Care,

John Mahr


Thanks for your input. We all know that the weight rule has done nothing for safety, and has probably made the pole manufactures rich. I have a plan that I think will work and soon I will unveil it.




Thanks for including me in this.  I Like the basic concept of the rule.  A couple of comments: The "under control"rule for shot and discus has been out of the rule book for several years now.  The rationale for the"weight rule" has more to do with lawyers and perceived liability than with safety.  The original intent, as I understand it, was to prevent broken poles. Now it's a case of, if an athlete gets hurt, a member of a jury would have difficulty understanding why that athletes was jumping on a pole "designed" for a lighter athlete. ~ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


I couldn’t agree more. But if we provide a simple solution that allowed for heavier athletes to use lower grips the sport would be safer and less costly.


For all track and field coaches, pole vaulting coaches, pole vaulters, athletic department staff, and others tied to the event of pole vaulting:

Discussion of a logical alternative to the high school National Federation's "weight rule" requiring pole vaulters to use a pole rated at or above their body weight is being explored and proposed.  USA Pole Vault National Safety Chairman and Olympic Bronze Medalist Jan Johnson is in the drafting and r&d stages of a rule requiring in-bounds landings during pole vault competitions for all high school, middle school, and youth competitions.  What follows are some observations, commentary, and suggestions regarding the implementation of such a rule change.

As I stated a week ago, based upon my 23 consecutive years of participation in the sport, over 10 of those years as a full-time year-round pole vaulting coach at all levels, and over 10 years as a pole distributor, I STRONGLY ENDORSE this rule proposal as the most logical, practical, and cost-effective method to address the safety issues presented in pole vaulting.

Finally, why do we NEED this?  To quote Jan: "Why is it that during my time in the event some of us jumped as high 17' on pads only 13 feet across. Yet today we have 10 footers who can't hit a 20' wide pit?"

Thanks for your time and support!

Kris Allison

New Braunfels, TX




I have very serious misgivings about this rule proposal.  I think that a rule that punishes those who land outside of a particular area is essentially redundant.  It would be redundant because the vaulter and coach presumably would be quite aware that landing outside of the designated area is unsafe.  Vaulters are likely to miss foul/miss/displace the crossbar on most such vaults anyway.

Some risk-taking is an inherent part of the sport.  I think that such a rule will give many poor officials another reason to be poor or even worse.

I have very strong opposition to this entire rule proposal.

~ Dr. Russ VerSteeg Sky Jumpers Connecticut – New England School of Law


Why must we allow people to take dangerous jump after dangerous jump at our facilities? Why do we let them bring their reckless behavior to our HS’s and college campuses? We all cringe at some of these people. They are reckless and bad for our sport. We need a cut and dried rule that empowers the officials to remove those who will not, or can not, make the necessary adjustments as I explained over the phone.

Ur still my main man in Connecticut!


Using volleyball as a comparison-give me a break.

~ Unknown author


Please keep me on your email list for this and all of your topics. A quick comment about this topic I can only add simple is better. Outside the landing sector, flag. Three flags and you're out for the rest of the competition. My only disagreement comes in the area of an abort. An obvious abort should only be counted as a miss. We don't need kids "hanging " on to a bad jump trying to get into the pit so they don't get a flag. To me that seems a sure recipe for a very dangerous situation . In most every case an aborted jump is the vaulters inner sense of self survival taking over and telling him or her that he or she is not "going right" for a safe jump. Thus, they abort. We shouldn't interject a rule that may possibly change their focus from anything other than getting off that pole in one piece.

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Vaultgeezer, My feeling is that those kinds of bailouts where the vaulter lands in front of the required zone are the ones where his or her pole did not get close to vertical and are particularly dangerous. The kind of bailouts where the pole did get to vertical but the vaulter choose not to turn up are another story and on those kinds of jumps they land in the RLZ. We have studied this very closely.


I like the rule because as I watch the vault it all to often makes me cringe with some of the un safe behavior.  In the long jump if I have young athletes that have problems making the pit or their landings are unsafe I stop them until we can correct it.  I was at a meet many years ago where a vaulter died.  This vaulter goofed around during warm ups and later did the same things that ultimately caused his death.  This rule enforced during warm ups would have prevented the teens death.

Coach Jackson


Coach Jackson,

Thanks for your input. Unfortunately I have witnessed several catastrophic accidents in my 45 years and I have expert witnessed on countless others in lawsuits. In either case, I always come away with the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach…Could send me more information about the accident you saw so that I can put it in my data base?


Good Day Jan,

One thought occurred to me while reading through all the comments below that has never occurred to me before (in 40+ years; I started vaulting at age 12 in 1970). The pole vault event is not a “recreational” sport; it is competitive and inherently difficult. This isn’t like making bathrooms accessible to folks in wheelchairs (who need that access). Pole vaulting isn’t meant for the masses; if a jumper is heavy and/or slow, they should look to another event, as they will never be competitive, and will in fact have a difficult time vaulting safely. I don’t even like saying it out loud, but it is true and society needs to accept that not everyone can do everything, politically correct or not.

The minimum about me so you have an idea where my opinion comes from: I was a CA prep state finalist in the mid 70’s (and still hold my HS record of 15’ set in 1976; small town – Hanford - where “Dutch” Warmerdam grew up) and my last competitive season was at CAL in 1979. My brother and I used to run the pit at the West Coast Relays in Fresno. I coached the vault for several years at the high school my children attended (2002 to 2007). Had I ever developed the top of my vault, I would have gone 17’+ (but I didn’t). I have incredible respect for you and Bob (Seagren) for what you accomplished in the 1972 Olympics. Folks who have not jumped have no concept of what you guys did there. Steve Smith and Kjell Issakson did not fare so well. Of the four of you, Steve would have taxed these proposed rules; he was a shade on the crazy side. Didn’t he jump off a skateboard approach at one point? Insane!

The weight issue .. I don’t personally have an issue with it, as those who are not fast or strong enough to bend a pole at their weight should progress further until they can. MAYBE lighter training poles for use in PRACTICE ONLY could be utilized for that transition phase from straight pole to the modern style. But in competition, I don’t see the weight rule being a factor. Competitive vaulters, particularly elite class, are ALWAYS on  poles above their weight anyway. Even my light (“noodle”) pole was above my weight in my day. I still have my Pacer 4.70 (17.4) I set my high school record on and my two CATA-POLE 580+ (15’6” 7.0 and 7.125) I jumped on at CAL (they were my poles; not the schools). When I was coaching prep vaulters, I made a point of having a progression of poles that vaulters could advance with; from shorter lighter poles, 10-80 (?), 1220, 1230, 1340, up to 1460 or so .. a good spread for HS jumpers.

My thoughts on introducing a Required Landing Zone (RLZ); GREAT IDEA. Implementation will be a deterrent, as schools don’t have the funds to purchase new pits manufactured with RLZ markings, and interim solutions are all less than desirable (paint or tape). Our schools have been stripped thread-bare and it gets worse every year. Even in 1972 when my brother qualified for the CA state finals, my father bought him a new pole because the school didn’t have the funds. I benefited by coming along 4 years after him and several poles were already in the inventory for me to use and progress with.

Application of the RLZ:

1. First contact in RLZ – if jumper rolls out, so what? They “landed” in the safe zone.

2. Thought: make the RLZ a little smaller, but if they touch it at all upon landing they are good; hence they have to be all the way out for an infraction or caution to be called. Might make the refereeing more straight-forward.

3. Two cautions, 3rd infraction is final vault (not a “miss”); jumper gets credit if a height was made. If not, no harm no foul.

4. Tie-breaker; let’s say two competitors clear same ultimate height, but one does so with his/her 3rd infraction. Other vaulter goes on to miss 3 at next height. All other things being equal, the competitor who had 3 non-RLZ landings gets second place (promote safety, right?). That would get stickier if the other competitor went to next height and also had a 3rd non-RLZ landing .. but I would say s/he still wins because at their last height accomplished the one who went out at next height had jumped more safely through the winning height.

Helmets: stupid rule, they do NOT make vaulting safer, and may in fact lean the other way as the competitor may “feel” safer and take more risk. I never used a helmet and cannot imagine competing with one on. If anything, I think they could produce more neck trauma during safe vaults than without one. Competitors need to develop an awareness of where they are and should always accept a miss rather than attempt to complete a vault unsafely.

In closing, I want to extend my thanks for your being a great ambassador to our sport. I only wish you had better funding and facilities for your vault camps. Were I one of those lucky “1%” I would donate monies to improve your facilities. Maybe I should start buying lottery tickets “for the good of the sport”  .. J

Final comments, my apologies for my lack of brevity; I miss jumping so much that it is hard to write without reminiscing. At 54 I have to limit my activities to cycling, fishing, golf, tennis, et cetera and while I enjoy all of those, they will never hold a candle to vaulting.

With respect,

Brad Smith

146 Blue Canyon Way

Martinez CA 94553


As a professional stuntman for 30 years and pole vaulter and coach for longer I believe the person landing on the front buns under control on his feet is much more safe than a person landing out of control in the "landing zone".  Is there a study that shows the vaulters that got hurt landed out of the zone first? It should be at the officials discretion if a vaulter demonstrates consistent control or out of control.  Where they land is second.  As an official and coach I have warned and told vaulters if they continue to be out of control they will not be allowed to continue to vault.  On several occasions I have told vaulters they are no longer allowed to vault after I have seen them out of control numerous times.  The warning should be  given to the vaulter that is out of control no matter where he/she lands.

"*It was also noted that in volley ball the entire ball must land outside the line for the ball to be out of play.

*Several committee members reminded us that in the throws the implement must land within a prescribed sector."

This doesn't make any sense because the implement in the pole vault is the person.  In bounds is making the bar not where the landing is.  How many vaulters made the bar and landed near the edges of the pit?  If a vaulter has 3 vaults in a row that are wide, short or long on the pit are most likely not to make the bar anyway.

I believe painting a safe landing zone is a good thing to aim at but not make rules around.  I believe that recommended landing zone should be a certain distance "about a foot or little more" all around the pit not just behind the crossbar. That gives someone under control a place to spot that most likely would not throw them out of the pit.

Tim Werner

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Call or Text (818)261-4493


My man! I simply want to go back to the times when landing in the middle was the norm. We need a sort of behavior modification to help this along. It seems to me that as we have grown the size of the pads and brought the front buns out well beyond the front edge of the box that we have simply increased the wildness among many participants. I don’t allow this kind of behavior at my place, and you clearly don’t at yours. But what about the 85% of the country where the kids, the coaches, and the officials are too naive to know any better? By making a simple easy to enforce rule, I think we can make a difference. Were certainly not going to grow the size of the pits again. Dah!



Thanks so much for your continued vigilance on safety, while maintaining the integrity of the event.  I regard my time on the NFHS Track and Field Rules Committee (2006-10) and your involvement as highlights of my professional career!!!  My Best, Bo

If we can be of service at Hagerstown CC in helping, let me know!!!

Sent: Saturday, March 24, 2012 1:15 PM

Robert T. Myers

Wow! Thanks Bob. I will be calling you soon. Thanks for your very kind words.



You have my full support on this very simple solution.  Looks like a lot of bright people have stated most of the issues.  The only concern I have is managing a pit’s movement during a meet.  Maybe extending a line from the pit to a permanent line on the ground that the official would need to check before issuing a caution?  We have all been to facilities where the pit (and in some cases standards) will drift 3,6, even 12” during a competition from beginning to end.

Let me know what I can do to extend my support in PA.

Matt Concannon



I guess I was surprised to receive this in my inbox.  I think we have met once and talked on the phone twice.  For what it is worth, if a safety rule like this is going to go into effect I think it also needs to cover the high jump also.  Now we have consistency in both vertical jumps.  The other thing is look at the horizontal jumps for our model.  In the long or the triple if the athlete's head does not stay in the superior position it is a foul (i.e. no somersault).  Along those lines if the jumper touches the outside of the sand, exits in front of the mark or does not exit out of control it is a foul.  If the rules are consistent from event to event then it will be easier to enforce and judge.  If the rule is that you have to land in the "sector" then you have to land in the same spot.  The sector for every throwing event is 34.95 degrees, it does not matter if you have 40 acres to throw in or the infield of a track every thrower knows that the platter or ball has to land within sector.  With that every vertical jumper should know that they need to land in a little box no matter how big the pit is.  If they don't it is a miss.  If you pr'ed at 14'6 and didn't land where you were suppose to then it is no different than throwing 70' and it goes out of the sector or long jumping 25' and touching the outside of the pit as you land.


So much for my 2 cents.


Rod Fuchs

I personally don't think this will help at all!!!  I don't know a vaulter or coach on the planet that doesn't already try as hard as they can to land in this area already.  Even when you teach beginners that barely get their feet off the ground all parties involved want the vaulter to land in the center of the pit.  The only way to make it safe is to add more padding and move the O line back a couple more inches or even 1/2 a foot.  How about having an official throw a matt down in the box after they leave the ground.  You could also require the meet director to put thin tumbling mats down all the way around the vaulting area.  This would cost the school about $1500 total.  Most PE departments have them already so you would only need to borrow them during track and field season.  That is what we do:):):)

Anytime someone uses a new pole we put our High Jump pits around the pole vault mats and we throw down a small tumbling matt when the vaulter takes off over the back of the box.  There is no way that any pole vaulter probably in the world that doesn't already try to land in the center of the pit.  Adding this square in a meet will only discourage new kids to try vaulting because failure only causes kids to quit.  It takes a long time to get kids to land correctly and into the pit.  Don't make it harder for us to promote and govern this sport.

Todd Thorson
Ipswich School

South Dakota

I personally don't think this will help at all!!!  I don't know a vaulter or coach on the planet that doesn't already try as hard as they can to land in this area already.  Even when you teach beginners that barely get their feet off the ground all parties involved want the vaulter to land in the center of the pit.  The only way to make it safe is to add more padding and move the O line back a couple more inches or even 1/2 a foot.  How about having an official throw a matt down in the box after they leave the ground.  You could also require the meet director to put thin tumbling mats down all the way around the vaulting area.  This would cost the school about $1500 total.  Most PE departments have them already so you would only need to borrow them during track and field season.  That is what we do:):):)

Anytime someone uses a new pole we put our High Jump pits around the pole vault mats and we throw down a small tumbling matt when the vaulter takes off over the back of the box.  There is no way that any pole vaulter probably in the world that doesn't already try to land in the center of the pit.  Adding this square in a meet will only discourage new kids to try vaulting because failure only causes kids to quit.  It takes a long time to get kids to land correctly and into the pit.  Don't make it harder for us to promote and govern this sport.

Todd Thorson
Ipswich School

South Dakota


As I see the problem it is almost always a case of holding too high. The grip and rip method seems to be every where. I would like to see less emphasis on hand hold and more emphasis on push off. But since probably 80% of HS kids jump without coaching they are left to their own demise.


I think that this is the feeling of the majority of the coaches too Dave!     George Davies

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Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2012 15:26:09 -0400
Subject: Fwd: Issue # 2 - Jan Johnson’s Pole Vault Safety and Technique News Letter
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Did you guys get this from Jan?

Since when I jumped, 50 years ago, the bar was only 5" from the back of the box and I landed 15" to 20" from the back of the box, I have only a few comments about these issues and they are all positive.

Since I sign a paper that certifies the vaulter weighs less that the pole weight rating it seems only logical that I should be able to sign a paper that states I am certified as a vaulting coach and that my vaulters are using the correct poles to get them into a specified landing area. Probably along with this certification, I should have to show my valid certification as a vaulting coach, even though I am certifying it on the paper. With these certifications and checks of credentials the officials only have to check the poles for bad grip taping.

I have always thought the pole weight rule was a farce.  However, I still think the pole rating label should be on the pole as a guide for the coach and athlete so that they don't go to far over or too far under in their selection of a proper pole for their athlete to make successful vaults.

As far as flagging bad vault landings is concerned, I think having some rules established will help coaches to identify and correct their athletes vaulting problems before they ever get to a meet, because now they will have to. Also the athletes will know what is expected of them.

So I think two things should occur this season on a trial basis:

1) Drop the weight rule on the poles. (This should be easy to implement)

2) Propose a landing area rule with possible penalties/flags to be used on a trial bases but not enforced. Tell the athlete and the coach when ever a flag would have been issued. (This might be harder to implement).

Any comments?


I love this rule. Especially if it gets rid of the weight rating for poles. All that rule does is make me a liar. Especially when dealing with beginning vaulters and female vaulters.


I am with you 100%. How can I help?


Scott A. Palin

Billings West High School

Pole Vault Coach

Billings, MT

(406) 651-9072



The only thing the weight rule has been good for has been the pole manufactures bank accounts. Our data clearly shows that it was not until 2003 (larger landing pads) that the rate of catastrophic accidents improved.



"It aint the arrow, its the Indian" has direct application here. It doesn't take much coaching experience to realize that the weight label rule does little or nothing to improve safety. Critical to the debate is that many developing pole vaulters, especially those learning proper bend mechanics experience difficulty landing in the safe area as a result of using a pole that is not appropiate to their stage of development just to be in compliance with the weight label rule. The pole should be considered a tool not an impediment. The right tool for the job should not be determined by a 1" label at the top end. It should be detemined by the vaulter's ability to properly and safely execute the jump when using the appropiate pole in conjunction with proper grip height. The most reliable determinant for proper and appropiate pole selection and grip height is the landing location of the vaulter.

For the aforementioned reasons I endorse your proposal of the safe landing zone lines on all high school landing systems. In my opinion by adopting your proposed rule change the safety of the event will be enhanced and the need for the current convoluted, time consuming and often times unenforced safety(?) rules, especially to those pertaining to pole weight ratings can be streamlined or eliminated.

Keep up the good work

Chris Smith

USATF level 1 coach

USATF / USOC elite developing jumps coach camp participant  Aug,2008

USATF official

PVSCB safety certified

ten years coaching experience, vertical jumps, high school and college

Nice work Jan – I appreciate the listening forum you’ve launched.  If such a forum was lunched back when the weight rule was considered, I believe we’d have come straight to the most logical mechanism for safety, which is to not allow reckless vaulting.  The reason the weight rule is bad is that it is still perfectly legal to vault dangerously short long or sideways on a legally weighted pole.  Second, it is harmless and highly beneficial for low velocity beginners to use a light pole that blossoms their confidence and lands them safely in the center of the pit.  The complaints that they might over bend or grip improperly will all be satisfied if they are required to land safely.  Plus, schools won’t have to buy as many poles, perhaps.  I never considered, but am now enchanted by the idea that a vault outside the safe sector would count as a miss, whether the bar was cleared or not.  It sounds so simple when compared to the other field events.  My vote is, displace the bar or land outside the sector, and the vault is a miss.

I can tell you the relief at meets without the weight rule will be massive.  At our state meet they weigh every athlete, place neon tape on the tops of all approved poles, and it’s still bullshit.  Kids still land short, and no one knows a kids doesn’t grab a lighter weighted pole that someone else had cleared for the day.  Velocity determines the pole’s rotation speed, not the stiffness of the pole.  This is real safety that will shape practice and meet vaults with a forceful motive to grip, plant and take-off properly.  I’m now all in.  Tim

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Hi Jan,

Thanks for sharing this email thread with me.   Great job in distilling and addressing the essence of the safety issue.   For many years, and for the reasons stated by so many others below, the "weight rule" has diminished my enjoyment of the sport...

I support your proposed rule.   I agree with some below that a vaulter who stays down and safely aborts a vault after an isolated crummy plant (a gust of cross wind, etc.), but lands in front of the safe zone should get some credit for her good judgment (i.e., a miss, but not a caution);  as should the athlete who aborts, does not jump, but touches the pit beyond the box (and outside the safe zone).   But if exempting these occurrence from the rule cannot be accomplished without over-complicating the drafting and enforcement of the proposed rule, I would welcome an imperfect new rule and an elimination of the weight rule as a substantial improvement..

Thanks for all the good work that you do to improve the sport!

Bill Pulak

Hi Jan,

In my previous reply to you, I did not explain the reasons why I believe that the weight rule is bad for pole vaulting.   I believe that although the rule is intended to improve vaulting safety, it does not logically or measurably ensure that a vaulter will land safely.   As you often explain, the pole stiffness rating is but one variable in the total energy equation which places the vaulter safely in the pit.   Other variables include handhold, length of approach run, runway speed, jumping ability, takeoff point, plant mechanics, hang time, speed of swing and angle of push-off.

Compliance with the rule does not assure that an athlete will not break a pole or over shoot the pit.  I agree that the weight rule adversely affects the sport in that it can cause beginners to under penetrate while learning to bend the pole, and it prohibits less gifted athletes from experiencing bent pole vaulting in competition.

Further, enforcement of the weight rule in Illinois has become an often stressful and negative experience because the athletes are weighed in before competition to verify their weight.   Although by rule the practice of weigh-ins in Illinois is restricted to the state championship meets (sectionals, prelims and finals), many other meets are adopting the practice, and an objection is often received as negative or suspicious.   The weigh-in practice introduces the issues of the weight scale accuracy and calibration, and of rule interpretation with respect to fractional scale readings above a pole stiffness increment (i.e. a scale reading of 160.3 lbs. can be interpreted both to qualify or to disqualify an athlete to use a 160 pound rated pole).   Finally, because athletes' weights often fluctuate (especially girls), the weight rule creates unnecessary stress for athletes as to which pole they will be eligible to jump on that day (or if he has only one pole, whether he can compete at all).

Finally, in order to vault safely and competitively in compliance with the weight rule, athletes now require an exhaustive inventory of poles, which is prohibitive at many schools (especially schools that prioritize mainstream sports other than pole vaulting), and therefore the rule contributes to restricting the general availability of competitive pole vaulting.   I have often felt that the pole manufacturers, and not the vaulters, are the primary beneficiaries of the rule.   Because the rule regulates only one of many variables affecting safe vaulting, and because its practice has needlessly negative and exclusionary effects, the weight rule is bad for pole vaulting.

Bill Pulak

graduate, 1973 Chicago Heights Park District Pole Vault Clinic


Thanks as always for your continued support. Wow, 1973 Chicago Hts PV camp. We are getting old…..



Hi Jan,


Long time no speak... all the way back to when I had Andy Dixon at Middlebury!


After reading your News below, I am left with the same thought.  Would another path to improving  safety be to approach HS rules makers with the goal being to encourage / empower PV Officials to prevent an athlete from competing who doesn't exhibit save conduct of attempts?  This being both in warmup as well as in meet.  I am thinking that there be say a tick sheet on the actual meet record that has 3? or more boxes for evaluating observed full run warmup vaults.  In order to compete each vaulter must execute X # of safe plant, takeoff, landings.   Also, Officials should be encouraged to view competitive jumps in a similar way?  Lastly, is there some logic in observation of pole use in competition...thinking of the scenario where a kid is down to his 3rd attempt and goes to a different (longer pole for higher grip) pole which then risks a less safe vault.


Just some thoughts and I know that there are many ramifications.  But at the risk of making officials too activist, an official is an underused tool for safety and in reality, even a too cautious official would be overly safe and is that so bad?


Dave Kerin

USATF Master Official

USATF Coaches Ed Instructor

USATF M & W High Jump - National Chairperson




I read this with great interest.  Thanks for sharing.

Dave S.


I'm an eighth grader this year and I don't have a middle school pole vault coach this year. I am planning on teaching my friends all I know on how to pole vault, so any tips will be helpful. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I appreciate all that you do, and looking forward to seeing you over the summer!


Right on! As we all know very little of the coaching in the PV actually is actually done by the coaches. Its almost always a case of vaulters trying to help other vaulters. For this reason this news letter exists.

Keep up the good work.


Jan Johnson

Thank you for this amazing email, and I will keep up the good work!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for all that you do!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I also appreciate this awesome advice!
Thank you!