Fabulous tension in the pole vault

Glued to the pole vaulting – and what is it about women and poles? – I couldn’t help noticing that certain types stay near the top of the rankings and others don’t:

1. 5.06 m (16 ft 7 in) Yelena Isinbayeva Russia Zurich 28 August 2009
2. 4.92 m (16 ft 1 12 in) Jenn Suhr United States Eugene 6 July 2008
3. 4.88 m (16 ft 0 in) Svetlana Feofanova Russia Iraklio 4 July 2004
4. 4.85 m (15 ft 11 in) Fabiana Murer Brazil San Fernando 4 June 2010
=5. 4.83 m (15 ft 10 in) Stacy Dragila United States Ostrava 8 June 2004
=5. 4.83 m (15 ft 10 in) Anna Rogowska Poland Brussels 26 August 200

This was well worth analysing in painstaking detail. Look at Fabiana, for example:

What makes her tick? Last evening, the small Cuban girl was with the last bunch:

… not only through sheer determination and perhaps the Lord she kept praying to but because, being small, her weight to strength ratio was high enough to lift her over.   How much ethnicity comes into that I don’t know.

Surprisingly to me, the really muscly athletic didn’t cut it and this was down to three things as far as I could see, for example with the one I fell in love with:

She had muscle and strength, yes but muscle is much heavier than fat and thus she also increased the total mass which had to be levered over the bar.   Which brings us to another factor – by building herself up like that, she increased “chord width” or the distance between her chest and back.

Therefore there was less distance, front to back, that the eventual winners had to slide over that bar.  The strong women unfortunately had that bulk to get over it.   You can see this in two of the others [don’t you just love the Olympics?]:

Contrast that with Elena:

and the result:

Just enough space to squeeze over.

Now, let’s go to Holly Bleasdale.   The thing to get established first and foremost is that she is the loveliest of people, with a kind, womanly nature – and that’s why her boyfriend proposed to her after the event.   She’s anyone’s idea of a catch.

However, Holly has a number of strikes against her in pole vaulting.  One is her shape – that Anglo-Saxon, rounded, droop-shouldered tendency to a pear shape and thunder thighs, the result of a culture of junk food, easy living and having it all.   The American women are even worse.

She, to her credit, is not like that and yet she still has had to fight her culture to be in shape, which she is:

However, vestiges of the culture can be seen in her overall profile and one of those she shares with the solid, muscly types above, in that the “chord” width from chest to back is broader than that of the medallists.   The small Cuban is more in proportion but as she’s smaller overall, the total chord width is less.

So when Holly and the muscle-girls go up there, they’re always going to dislodge the bar earlier.  They’re also carrying a lot of mass to get over that bar.   The English girl, not being naturally physically strong, has even more to do and so she could, with the best will in the world, only get so far in this event.  Ditto with the Australians, ditto with the Germans.

You need to be whipcord lithe for women’s pole vault [the men are entirely different].

One factor not yet mentioned is temperament.  All athletes get nervous and choke at times – look at the famous Greg Norman choke which handed victory to Nick Faldo – and I’m sure that’s what got to the French girl.   That and the French sense of entitlement, which combined with the female sense of entitlement anyway, is not a good combination.  Hence the French are not in the top 5 in the list above.

The temperamental German girl

Holly seems to lack that and so did quite well.

Combined with that entitlement is natural female anxiety.   Even the winner, Jenna Suhr, was anxious the whole time, to the extent that she went over to her coach a few times, letting off steam and demanding: “What am I doing wrong?  Tell me!”

The main job, it seemed to me for those guys was to keep their charges calm and focused, to build them up and later to offer them a shoulder.

In fact, all the women did that and one of the German girls who was eliminated broke down, then went over and accused her coach of giving her the wrong instructions – a sort of Victoria Pendelton blame-shift if you like.   One went and hid under a blanket.   It was this behaviour and the excellent [intrusive?] photography which really brought the tension home and I was rivetted to the spectacle all night, even forgetting to have dinner.

Finally, as Holly said, it was experience.   She’s certainly a girl who knows herself and I think everyone hopes she goes on to great things but I’d suggest she get out of the UK and train somewhere they eat properly and are harder on themselves [instead of on their men].

It would be interesting to know how and where Jenna trains, as she’s been at the top a long time now.   Perhaps it’s just that killer instinct which, if you compare to the lovely and cuddly Holly, is chalk and cheese.

3 comments for “Fabulous tension in the pole vault

  1. August 7, 2012 at 14:29


    It’s Holly Bleasdale.



  2. August 7, 2012 at 15:19

    Knew it was something like that. It’s just that I have a Helen on my mind at work. Never was good on names, Cap’n.

    I can see her at some bar in far off climes, whisky martinus in hand, stirred not shaken and she says, in answer to the question: “The name’s Holly – Holly xGoodheadx Bleasdale.”

    Later, with her tied to the rack, Seb Coe says to her from the door: “No, Ms Bleasdale, I expect you to win gold.”

  3. August 7, 2012 at 21:13

    That made I larf out loud, that did!

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