Jan Johnson’s Pole Vault Safety and Technique News Letter

March 19, 2014

Recently both the NCAA and the NFHS have mandated  a new typ of plant box area padding. Here is an historical account of our work in this area.


Plant Box Safety Development Time Line

2000 ~

Jeremy Harlan, former SJVSC club member, jumping for Oral Roberts Univ,  with good coaching,  lands in the box at practice suffers sever head injury. He apparently recovered but never vaulted again.

Above~ Classic PV pit area with huge unprotected areas behind back of plant box

2001 ~

Toby Stevenson elite US vaulter lands in the box at an internation meet in Oslo, Norway. Suffers broken ribs is hospitalized, recovers and wins the Olympic Silver medal in 2004.

Winter 2002 ~

Kevin Dare dies from a fall into the plant box at the Big 10 Indoor meet at U of Minn.

Ed Keefe, lands in the box and fractures his hip at the Big East Indoor champs.

Fall 2002 ~

Install soft box #1 at SJVSC

Ryan White Lands in the box at Univ So Conn Jr Olympic meet is paralyzed from the wait down for life.

Above ~ Static demo of worse case scenario

Spring 2003 ~

NCAA and NFHS mandate larger landing mats as a result of numerous accidents and a new ASTM specification.

Install soft box #2 at SJVSC, NCAA , NFHS mandate larger landing pads. NFHS also recommends padding all hard surfaces around the plant box and the perimeter of the landing pad.

Summer 2003 ~

Lacey Jansen, FSU vaulter, with good coaching,  lands on her back in the plant box, suffers a broken tail bone and ribs,  at the USATF outdoor nationals at Stanford. She recovers and vaults again at a high level after a years recovery.

Spring 2004 ~

Install soft box #3 at SJVSC:

Winter 2005 ~

Elite Vaulter,  Paul Jensic, Air force Acamemy vaulter, with good coaching,  is badly hurt landing in the box at the University of Nebraska. Suffer broken hip and other injuries, recovers and vaults again.

Spring 2005 ~

A vaulter in India, (Singh) is paralyzed landing in the box.

Ryan Adler HS Sacramento area HS vaulter is badly hurt landing in the plant box with no box collar.

2006 ~

After 3 years of soft box investigation and testing many drawbacks have emerged, some of them appear to compromise safety.

Winter 2007~

General New Box Collar Project Goals Established:

Increase the amount of padding protection with in, and around the plant box, with out interfering with pole entry, or pole rotation. Secondarily, provide a collar which is independent of the pit and does not shift around.

Spring 2007

A Washington HS vaulter (Couch), with good coaching,   is badly hurt landing in the plant box. A law suit results after hospital time.

Our earliest prototype was simply closed cell foam tapped together in 2007


General Observations Pre-Project:

1. The 1970 rule change which angled the plant box side walls and strike plate was done so to allow the pole to bend with out damaging the bottom. The rule also disallowed the placing of towels, t-shirts and other objects in the box as a means of protecting the bottom of the pole.  However this rule greatly increased the amount of hard surfaces.

2. All landing pad designs appear to provide very poor protection around the perimeter of the box area, this seems to be a result of increasing the taper of the front buns and not providing a adequate common top cover. As the open cell foam padding gets thinner in these areas its easy to feel the ground under foot when you step on these areas. Some MFG’s say their brand does not require a collar. Yet hard or poorly padded surfaces are present.

3. All box collars at this time do not seem to offer much protection and commonly slide back leaving a large amount of unprotected area around the box.

4. Many brands of landing pads offer fount bun padding which is very thin, right to the side and rear edges of the plant box, however, these sections also tend to slide around often covering the inside edges of the plant box so that the pole often hits them as it bends. The feel that the pole striking the landing pit stops the pole from rotating to vertical.

5. Typically, elites want to slide the front bun sections back to allow the pole to bend freely. However, this always leaves a large unpadded area just behind the box. USATF does not have a box collar rule.

6. Serious and catastrophic injuries from falls into the box area are still a concern.

Box Collar Development Time Line

Spring 2007~

A Washington HS boy (Couch)  is badly hurt landing in the box at a HS with a box collar in Washington state. Suffers broken vertebra, and files a lawsuit.


Fall 2007 ~
Job #1 Determine if it is possible to place padding with in the plant box with out interfearing with pole entry, bending and rotation. Experiment with many different shapes and materials…Make Foam side wall pads of various shapes and have PV club members  vault with them. (5700 vaults)


Winter 2007-8

Atascadero PV camp ~ 80 participants record over 1400 vaults using interior padding with 16” wide front opening and 3” wide strike plate exclusively  at the camp. Many questions were asked but all participants adjusted and vaulted successfully and safely. Bring my foam inserts to Bloom and Maine South winter clinics. After a few questions all participants adapt and both clinics are a success.


Spring 2008 ~ Experiment continues with 20” wide front opening and 3” wide pole strike area  is used at all club pole vault activities and day camps over 10,000 vaults are recored with only a few questions from those who have never seen this unique set up.

Ryan Morberg a HS vaulter in Washington State is killed landing in the plant box.

College Female vaulter (Espransa) Fractures verterbra in her neck and suffers sever concussion at a indoor college track meet in Michigan.


Fall 2008 ~

I Show David Hodge  @ Gill athletics  my prototypes. Continue to experiment with size and shapes of interior wall padding. Ashley Whittaker,  former U of I vaulter,  and Gill engineering dept member begin work on the first of many prototypes.

Winter 2008 ~

Get first factory collar: with upper interior wall padding . IT is made of 2” rebounded foam, but no angled tapers around pole bend cavity,  and insufficient padding on side walls.  We immediately see the need for more padding and combine our foam interior pads with the collar for best results. The front opening during this phase was between 20 and 22”. Much of our testing during this phase centers around how wide the front opening needs to be which relates directly to how thick the padding can be in this area.

Mike Seaman, U Tenn, lands short at a college meet at U Ky. Broke L3 and 4 severely and  sprained ankle. Recovered and continued vaulting.

Extensive experiments consisting of  “on purpose” plants on to side wall padding (Sam, Mike, Lisa, Chelsea ) at Cuesta College, and SJVSC in Atascadero, Ca  and others participate in 8 sessions of mis-plants.  Result: in all cases pole tip descends into bottom of the box without incident.


Spring 2009 ~

The second Gill prototype arrives;  with tapered bend cavity thicker foam and more foam on side walls it appears much more protective.

Courtney Brinkman, Indania HS vaulter hands slip off pole and lands on back in the box, suffers sever head injury, makes partial recovery.

Hartnell JC vaulter (Hixon) at at Fresno City college land in the box and suffers broken ribs and a punctured lung, he is hospitalized and recovers.

Brad Walker American PV record holder lands in the plant box at a grand prix meet in Monaco, fractures L 3 and 4,  is hospitalized, makes a full recovery

Experiments begin with the distance between the space between the wings at the front of the pole bend cavity. It is noted that the pole may brush these padded areas if they are too close. This of course is undesirable, but a min and max dimension must be determined for both the purpose of safety and uninhibited pole rotation.

8300 vaults recorded at SJVSC on a variety of set ups with intra box padding…

Summer 2009 ~

I bring Sample collar to 5 pole vaulting camps (7500 vaults). Show to National HS Federation at summer rules meeting in Indianapolis. Explain to them about our testing and that we are filing a patent.

Send samples to several independent testers including some of the most notable PV programs and coaches : Hagerstown CC, San Diego State Univ,  Kiss the Sky PV club, Phoenix Az, Univ of Washington, Cuesta College, Ca. Atascadero HS, Univ of Illinois, San Ramone  HS , and SUNY Cortland.   From the observations made by these people several minor design changes were made.


Fall 2009 ~

Introduce findings and specific design elements to ASTM pole vault equipment sub committee for the purpose of writing a safer specification . Discussion regarding our recent patent filing occurs.

Video Demonstration on front page of SkyJumpers.com home page.

4230 vaults recorded at SJVSC on final prototypes at SJVSC in addition to . Gill begins to sell Safety Max Collar under patent pending status.

NFHS representative tells me they want an ASTM for the collar before they will require it.

Above: Prototype “P” showing padding on top of traditional pole slide area.

Spring 2010 ~

Begin experiments with  improving shock attenuation. (we use many combos of  dense close cell foam combos and HDPE plastic on top of various foams.  Results seem to indicate that the protection offered by all existing collars and the inside of front bun sections is extremely poor, (including the newly designed Safety Max collar 48 programs purchase collars. All reports are very good.

Brandon Miracle a Jr HS vaulter in Texas tip catches a lip on the box, his hands slip off the pole just after T.O.  and he lands on his back in the box . Suffers a sever head injury and spends several weeks in recovery.

It is noted that the winged collar does not continually slide back because the wings help hold it in place, however, it does have an annoying tendency to continually creep into the middle thus narrowing the plant able opening at the front of the box. We continually have to kick it back to proper position. It also tends to become water logged. Our testing programs also make the same observations.

Charles Yin, a college beginner, with a experienced coach, lands off the side of a landing pit in a college league championship meet in Illinois and dies.

Above~ NCAA champ Kasey Burlingham demos worst case scenario landing position

Fall 2010 ~

First shock attenuation tests Oak Hurst, Ca with David Spease certified ASTM play ground tester. Many of these tests are later used to set shock attenuation limits for box collars and other landing system components which now exist in in the ASTM vault standard for landing pits.

James Vollmer- 14' college vaulter with an experienced coach,  lands in the Box at Jamestown college and is paralyzed.

Eric Sollin in Norway lands in the box and receives sever leg and hip injuries and nerve damage.

Spring 2011~

13 programs purchase collars, all reports are good.


Some officials’ are questioning its legality because of the "no objects in the box rule "(also a result of the 1970 rules changes),  which actually were referring to the placement of towels and other objects in front of the strike plate to help reduce the grinding of the bottom of the pole on the top of the strike plate.

NCAA athlete health and safety rep tells me they are very interested. Video demonstration at NCAA pole vault safety meeting shows several box landings. Several notable coaches are in the room with members of NCAA, USATF and NFHS rules and safety committees.

A NJ boy, ( De La Paz),  lands in the box, in practice,  trying to get on a bigger pole. He suffers sever head injury.

Texas Tech Vaulter with good coaching, in full view of a large crowd  lands on his back in the box hard in front of at the Mt Sac Relays. He is carried off in an ambulance but does not sustain a catastrophic injury and apparently has recovered.


Fall 2011~

NCAA T&F rules committee Chairman (a former vaulter) says he likes the idea and will show to the committee at the next meeting. The appreciate the work that has been done.

Above~  Room to bend!

More shock attenuation and materials experimentation is done . Further improvements with respect to angles around the pole bend cavity. Work begins on ASTM specification using shock attenuation info from test data. It is recommend that plant box padding min for interior walls (wings) and body be at least 1200 HIC. Currently sample data shows unprotected plant box area to be 10,000 HIC and 6" up the front bun sections at approx 6000 HIC, standard collars 7000 HIC, PV helmets 7000 HIC, and  the current version of safety max 4500 HIC. Clearly protection must be improved.


American Journal of Sports Medicine publishes 9 year follow up study on pole vaulting accidents. It is reported that serious and catastrophic injuries from falls into the plant box area are still common. Additionally, it reports that over 75% of pole vault HS aged campers report falls into the plant box area.


Spring 2012~

37 additional collars are sold.

ASTM F2949  for “winged plant box collars” becomes reality as it clears the final round of F08 ballots. Some of the design features are truly landmark in PV safety . It does the following:

1. Creates names for the various parts of a collar never before labeled.

2. Sets min and max dimensions for all aspects including: over all size, interior box padding (wings), pole bend area, body (arms), depth behind top of strike plate.

3. Sets minimum shock attenuation values for all surfaces, including: the interior side walls, the wings and the area behind which now may possibly  be interpreted as the de-facto “in side the box” minimum requirement.

4. Sets a size ranges for the pole bend cavity, pole slide area, front opening and over all thickness.

5. Indicates that collar wings which extend into the box  provide increased protection.

6. Increases the size and the shock attenuation beyond the collar Gill is currently selling by wide margins.


Above~ FI testing


NCAA prop committee recommends its use by December 2013.

A female vaulter in the Bay area (Peterman) catches her tip on the front exposed edge of a plant box at American River college and is hurt and spends hospital time but recovers.


Fall 2012 ~ Gill produces a collar made of superior padding materials than the previous version, which tests in the 950 HIC range. Additionally it does not absorb water and is more rigid so that it does not creep in to the front of the box.


Nathan Schuck  a HS senior in Indian has his pole tip catch on the lip of the plant box and is knocked out landing in the plant box.


Spring 2013~

214 additional collars are sold, collars previous to fall 2013 do not meet some of the F2949 specifications for size or shock attenuation.  New collars which do meet F2949 will be so marked.

Kay Clark landed in box on elevated board runway indoors  at Baldwin Wallace Univ.  with no collar. She sufferd torn cartilage and a sub-luxed ribs.


Fall 2013

ASTM PV Sub committee vote to up hold the F2949 standard in spite of efforts by UCS to have it withdrawn.


USATF Equipment Newsletter features the rules change requiring an ASTM specified collar.

Spring 2014

ASTM votes again to up hold F2949 pole vault box collar standard after Bruce Cranner a lawyer for the USATCCA again attempts to kill the specification.

Box collar is used in the NCAA meets all across the country with out a problem. Additionally several reports of falls into the plant box are reported without injury.


SKY JUMPERS  Pole Vaulting Safety and Basic Progressions Clinics 2014

Featuring: Jan Johnson

Olympic Bronze Medalist

Former World Record Holder

Director Pole Vault Safety Certification Board

Founder Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club



Soquel HS Santa Cruz, Ca……………………… Jan 4, 2014

Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club, Atascadero, Ca…. Feb 9, 2014

Maine South HS, Park Ridge, Illinois………………. Feb 15-16, 2014

Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club, Atascadero, Ca….  March 9, 2014

Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club, Atascadero, Ca…. March 16, 2014

Centerville HS, Dayton, Ohio…………………………June19-22, 2014

Univ. of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, Wisconsin ………June 25-28, 2014

Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club, Atascadero, Ca ….July 13-16, 2014

Kutztown University, Kutztown, Pa ……………...July 20-23, 2014

Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club, Atascadero, Ca ….Dec 28-30, 2014


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