Jan Johnson’s Pole Vault Safety and Technique News Letter July 10, 2014


Jan Johnson’s Pole Vault Safety and Technique News Letter

July 10, 2014

Development of Safety Max Pt. 3

The story of our continuing efforts to improve Pole Vault Safety in the Plant box area.

P12 Collar Stability

P13 Compatibility

P14 Conclusion

P15 Recommend dimensions and suggested rules wordings.

P16 Coaches letters and comments

P25 Athlete letters and comments 

Project Goal

The goal of this very important project has been to eliminate all future serious and catastrophic injuries in the plant box area. We think this objective can be met by no longer allowing any pole vaulting with unpadded horizontal or slanted surfaces in the plant box area. The project objective has been to pad as many of these unpadded, or poorly padded, areas as possible without great expense to those who sponsor or participate in the pole vault.

Above: NCAA Champions Chris Swanson and Kasey Burlingham demonstrate the two classic landing short body positions and how in the box padding can help protect – spring 2011

Below: Note the extreme position of the bottom on a bending pole as it swings around in a circle. Although this kind of bend is very unusual it was important in development. Also, note taper on edges of rim padding.

3. Although only a very remote possibility, we studied the effects of planting on the side wall padding in the spring of 2008. Approximately 300 full vaults and 200 drills were observed and video taped using a variety of materials and configurations. The subjects intentionally “bad planted” into the side wall padding. It was our observation from video analysis that some types of foam were possibly too soft and the pole seemed to have a higher likelihood of becoming imbedded. However, since the angle of incidence was so acute the possibility seems remote.

Below: Mike Hollis Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, Ca. Planting on, and under the side pads one of the early prototypes (18” wide front opening spring 2008.

Later it was determined that 3” of padding with a 1/8” Hi modulus plastic cover, cased in vinyl,  offered the best solution to this highly unlikely problem.

4. Next we began testing different kinds of padding materials to find the optimum padding which could be shaped and carved into the shapes we needed. Most important of all was to provide an angle at the rear of the plant box and to each side of the sides into which the pole bends.

5. We wanted to provide increased protection directly under that portion of the landing pads surrounding the plant box. It has been our observation that no landing system that we had observed in the past 10 years offers sufficient protection around the perimeter of the box. We felt that by offering a perfectly fitted collar three inches thick with the right kind of materials and by narrowing the opening at the top of the box 3” on each side and in other key areas, a large improvement in safety is gained.

Estimated total vaults at Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club (SJVSC) on post 2008 Safety Max designs- 350,000. Estimated total jumps at 8 other testing sites with Super max since 2009 - 2.2 million.


Our data base of serious, and life changing injuries to pole vaulters since the early 1980’s, clearly shows that box area landings represent by far the greatest risk to pole vaulters. This report also shows that college and elite vaulters have by far the greatest likelihood of this kind of injury. Additionally, it seems obvious that as handgrips and vault heights increase, so do the risks. With high hand holds the need for proper take off execution becomes increasingly more important. An under step, a late plant, a poor approach run, trying too stiff a pole, head winds, or just simply gripping the pole too high can all produce in the box landings.

Plant Box Perimeter Protection

Currently, all pole vault landing pads provide very limited protection in the areas around the plant box. The materials and methods currently be used in these areas at best only provide poor force impact values in our testing.

Many of the accidents we have studied in the past 30 years indicate the need for better protection in this area. Although the data from which we plan to determine the minimum standards for box collar padding is currently intellectual property, it is safe to say, that the protection it will offer will far exceed that of any  helmet currently on the market.

Box Collar Stability

The pit should be allowed to move on top of the box collar and can be slid as far back at 12” and still offer meaningful protection behind the box where so many people are badly injured. Our observation is that the padding which extends down the side walls (called the wings), holds the collar padding into place far better than any previous flat collar. The weight of pit on top of the collar also provides an anchor effect. The weight of the collar and its girth also provide more inertia and thus helps stabilize the collar. We also experimented with a couple of small dabs of contact cement and glued the front of the collar nearest the runway to the inside walls of the front of the box. We found this method to be very effective. The entire process takes not more than a minute or two. Contact cement is recommended because it also releases easily if the collar needs to be removed on short notice. Lastly, we like the idea of a glue in, because it immediately ends the argument we so often have seen in pole vaulting over the last 40 years regarding how far back the landing pads should be placed.

Landing Pad Compatibility

The Safety Max collar has been tested for 3 years at over 20 facilities across the US both indoor and out. Its has been used in conjunction with many kinds of landing pads and underlayment’s in a variety of conditions too numerous to list. By all accounts it has worked successfully with every brand of landing pad available in the U.S. including, but not limited to: Fisher, American, Port a pit, UCS, Gill, AAE, and many others. We have not found a single problem with compatibility of any kind.

It is recommend that the Safety Max collar be installed directly on the floor or surface under the front buns, and that it should not ne used in conjunction with pallets, tires or other forms of underlayment’s that raise the front buns off the ground.

Costs and Installation

The approximate cost of the Gill Safety Max vault collar is $600. The installation is easily done by simply lifting the inside front bun sections up and pushing the collar under until it is in proper position with no hard surface showing. Next, if so desired, but probably not necessary, is to apply a small amount of contact cement to the inside front edges of the collar and the last three inches of the inside portion of the flared side panels of the plant box. The entire operation including glue dry time should not take more than 5 minutes.

Changing Pole Vaulting for the Better

The goal of this project is to eliminate all future serious and catastrophic injuries in the plant box area. We think this objective can be met by no longer allowing any pole vaulting with unpadded horizontal or slanted surfaces in the plant box area.


We have taken great care in our research and development to not create conditions that might lead to future problems.  From the very beginning we closely studied the two most obvious issues: 1. not interrupting the pole bend, and 2. the minimum safe dimensions for the bottom pole slide. Fitting a collar around the box and no longer allowing any unpadded surfaces around or on the rim of the box and several inches down the walls will help put an end to injuries on these two very dangerous areas. Lessening or eliminating these kinds of accidents will provide much needed safety for our participants, and help insure the future of the sport.

Below: Jan Johnson, Cuesta College- 2009 demos  the classic hand slip off landing so often seen among beginners. Note prototype thickness and rigidity.

Recommended Dimensions and Minimum Cushioning Capabilities…   Wordings for rules makers…

…Beginning in 2012, A minimum of 3 inches (76mm) of dense foam padding (box collar incorporating interior side wall padding) shall be used to pad any and all hard surfaces between the planting box and the landing cushion. This padding shall also cover the upper interior side wall panels of the planting box it self. A pole vault landing cushion with front bun sections which incorporates 3 inch (76mm) side wall padding as described above, is also permissible.  This padding should be specifically designed with 105 degree tapered edges to match the angles of the sides of the planting box so as to allow an uninhibited pole bend around the top edges at the rear of the box. These systems should also allow a wide enough opening at the front of the planting box (22 ½”, 58cm) to allow a normally planted pole to enter and slide to the stop board undisturbed. Additionally this padding shall be made of materials that will deflect a poorly planted pole back onto the pole slide. (Product must meet current  ASTM, or NOXY industry standards)

Additionally, The planting box shall contain no foreign materials except for mandatory side wall padding no more than 3” thick with specifically designed to reduce hard surfaces in this critical area, and yet be firm enough to allow poorly planted pole to defect into the bottom of the box. This padding shall provide protection equal to or greater than the current industry standards.

Web Site

Pole Vault Safety @ facebook now has video clips and photos for review and comment posting.