Issue #6 - 2012 Jan Johnson's Pole Vault Safety and Technique News Letter

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Jan Johnson's Pole Vault Safety and Technique News Letter - Issue #6 - 2012

Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club
Pole Vault Safety Certification Board
Atascadero, California
In this issue: RLZ vs PLZ Comparisons and Explanations

Hi, Jan

Thanks so much for driving the Required Landing Zone effort.

I am a pole vault official, but have never attempted to vault or coach, so I am looking at this from a slightly different background than most of the other people involved in this effort.

I suggest placing the current wording of the proposed rule changes (or a link to it) at the top of every version of this e-mail news letter. This would help new people understand what is going on.

I also have a some questions coupled with suggestions.

Have a special rule for a run-thru. this is a special type of aborted jump where the pole is not used to lift the jumper from the ground. The "leave the pit from the front rule" should apply to a run-thru too. This is the only side of the pit that is guaranteed not to have another event in progress along it.


Good question! A run-through in fact is not a dangerous jump. The rule should only apply to jumps where the vaulter leaves the ground in an effort to make a jump. It should also not apply to jumps where the vaulter is trying to stop before taking off and just leaves the ground a little bit. Our goal here is only to get vaulters landing more in the center of the pads and not along the edges. ~jj~

Have a special rule for aborted jumps. Why not make the wings of the pad in front of the zero line be ok for feet first landings as jumpers do when they abort a jump without inverting? The wings of the pad in the front of the zero line seem designed to handle aborted jumps under ordinary circumstances. Or even extend the area for feet first landings of aborted jump to include the space between the zero line and the smaller white square that already exists on most landing pads (making a U shaped area covering the entire front of the pad where it is ok to land feet first on an aborted jump). Disallow landing in the box or on the yellow collar on an aborted jump. This would require a vaulter to learn some pole management skills to use when aborting a jump – and this would increase safety, as the most dangerous part of the pit is now the pole plant box.


Jumps where the vaulter does not roll the pole to vertical sufficiently to get in the RLZ are dangerous because box landing can result. This portion really aims at the heart of the problem ie, gripping the pole too high and landing short as a result. We have had many catastrophic accidents as a result of this scenario dating back to the early 1970's. Additionally in a 5 year study just ended we learned that over 70% of high school vaulters have landed in the plant box. ~jj~

For non-aborted jumps (anything not covered by a clearly aborted jump), why not require some part of the torso (butt-to-shoulders, excluding head, arms and legs) first impact the smaller white square that already exists on most landing pads?

I understand that the 15 x 14.5 foot rectangle is based on lots more experience than I have. But how different would the safety issues be if touchdown on a part of the smaller white square really be? Yes, I understand that this is a different interpretation of a sector violation than used in the throws. But the event is different, and I don't see any difference in officiating "all inside a bigger box" or at least part inside a smaller box.".


.I personally wrote the PLZ into the ASTM (with Dave Nielson's advice) back in 2002. I still say the PLZ is a good target. But we have now watched it for 8 years and have not been able to figure out a simple enforceable rule around it. Additionally, I feel that the PLZ has had very little effect on the safety of the athlete it is largely ignored by athletes and coaches alike.

So last year a couple of my summer coaching groups and I brain stormed a new idea. I came home after camps and spray painted an early version of the RLZ on one of my club pits. Next we got some of our official friends to watch and give us opinions. In February we started using it at contests as an experiment. Next I had my west coast coaches group watch and advise me ~jan~

does the current wording of the rule specify that touchdown should be face up? This is common practice today, and seems important for safety and evidence of a jumper being under control. This seems similar to, but different than, the no somersault rule in long jump.


this is also a good question!. Currently I know of no proposal mandating which way the vaulter should be oriented when landing. Our goal is to get kids landing in the middle of the pit and away from the edges. Our intention has been and continues to be to enforce first impact with in the RLZ with out touching or going over the boarders. It does not mandate second or third contacts, back roll extensions, back flips on the pits or anything else currently as written. BTW, I recently saw a college vaulter out here make a bar and throw a back flip with a half twist on the way down and land perfectly centered on the PLZ. For sure it was a stupid show off move, but should it get a yellow flag?

Our first efforts were to make a simple enforceable rule as possible for the officials.

We also want to make the rule clear so that we don't have over enforcement problems. ~jj~


The advantage of changing to the ideas mentioned above is that it is easy to officiate with an unchanged version today's equipment. I believe that the safety improvements would be largely the same as my understanding of the proposed rule.

I really like the idea of jumpers leaving the pad under control out the front of the pad. This is the only side of the pad that can be guaranteed not to conflict with some other event. And, it stops jumpers for habitually having uncontrolled landings that go off the back or sides of the pit.


Yes Sir, I agree with your observation.

BTW, I have had several officials' tell me that they would prefer not to award a miss to a vaulter who makes a bar but violates the RLZ. They say it might be better to simply award a yellow flag and eliminate with the third yellow flag. I see their point, but doesn't the implement have to land in the sector in the throws? We already have the precedent.

I also think that this rule would be useful at the college level, especially for smaller schools (ones without a pole vault coach) and the decathlon.


Frankly, I think the rule should apply to all levels of pole vaulting. In fact, our study of catastrophic injuries which is published later this month in the American Journal of Sports Medicine indicates the college boys and world class men (above 17'6") are by far the most likely to miss the pit.

Thanks again for doing this

Bruce Leasure

USATF Certified Official



Thanks so much for your interest in this topic. FYI the HS federation has the proposal on the rules change agenda, but the college does not.


Photo 1:
Henderson, KY Pole vault pit with RLZ marked in red duct tape.
Jan, I like the RLZ to start at zero. I think it offers plenty of space so that the vaulter does not foul with his feet with his standards on 40 or 50. Kevin Ferguson - Henderson Ky HS


As an NFHS, NCAA, USATF and IAAF official, I think the RLZ is preferable. Just ensure the rules specify what body parts must land first within the zone to be an acceptable effort.
The PLZ zone is safer, however would yield much criticism from athletes, coaches, etc.

Craig Cooper

Master level pole vault official
Vice Chairman Certification
USATF Southern California Association
555 North El Camino Real A230
San Clemente, CA 92672

Photo 2.
Is torso in or out of PLZ ? I would not want to be an official having to making this call with angry parents and coaches in the vicinity. All my contacts with my officials contacts indicate they much prefer the RLZ if given the choice. Although not painted on the pads the RLZ would be in the vicinity of his right hand . ~jan~


Photo 3
Is torso in PLZ? Foul by RLZ we frequently see this type of landing in the PV. Good reason to pad box area better.

Photo 4
Is torso in PLZ? Feet are not touching RLZ so it is not a foul. I agree it should not be a foul if judged by first impact rule. If feet from this point on slam down and hit the red line should it be a foul? ~jan~


Photo 5
Foul on RLZ if his foot touches the line on first impact, nearly but not quite a foul on RLZ side line. This landing would be a foul on PLZ, but I personally think PLZ is to stringent and would be difficult to enforce.


Photo 6
Not a foul if he does not touch RLZ with his hand on first impact, is a foul on PLZ. Note min and max standard settings on the pit. I personally think these should be mandatory so that coaches in the stands can easily determine approximate standard setting values. ~jan~


Photo 7
Foul on both . We often see this with beginners who go to the side and spin. It can be very dangerous if the pad is small and your going to the side a lot. Especially if the vaulter is fast and starting to bend the pole.


Photo 8
Clearly should be a foul by both RLZ and PLZ


Photo 9
Is torso in PLZ? I personally think the landing is safe not a foul if by RLZ.


Photo 10
Foul on PLZ, but should it be? Not a foul on RLZ. He is still on a decent portion of the pit and he has crossed the zero line.


Photo 11
Is torso in PLZ? How does an official make this call? Not a foul on RLZ if he does not touch line with his hands on first impact. Still plenty of pit behind his head.



Photo 13
This kind of landing is usually the result of a hand ship off or a broken pole. Typically the vaulter does not fall from very high, but we have had several serious injuries in the past few years from landings similar to this one.


Photo 14
In our test contests we saw many bailout type landings around the front line. By RLZ rules the pictured landing would not be a foul, if he or she landed this way on first impact. As can be seen in the photo the front line is 6" behind zero (top of back of the box) To hand here the vaulter must get his pole to vertical. So I don't think this should be a foul. ~jan~.


Photo 15
Landings where the vaulter contacts the front line or is in front of it by RLZ rules are fouls. In these kinds of vaults the vaulter did not get his pole to vertical which of course is much more dangerous. It also makes for a very simple officiating call. This is one of the main reasons why I like the "RLZ no touch rule" better than PLZ torso rule. It is less stringent and simpler to enforce. ~jan~


Photo 16
Elite members of our California JC pole vault coach's safety advisory group
in the coaches box at the Southern California JC prelims.

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