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Golden Eagles clear high expectations

by Alyssa Daley - Executive Editor
Tue, Jan 31st 2017 11:20 pm
Courtesy of Brockport Athletic Communications via Flickr
Courtesy of Brockport Athletic Communications via Flickr

Since the days of Ancient Greece pole vaulting has been a part of society. Although in 500 B.C. it wasn't yet considered a sport it was a crucial part of the way people lived. Pole vaulting was used to overcome obstacles such as enemy walls or to either jump over or onto animals such as horses and bulls according to the University of South Carolina. If you can imagine these ancient people using a 15-foot-long pole to launch themselves over a stone wall built to keep enemies out, then walking into a track and field meet, you will instantly be able to pick out modern day pole vaulting. The sport has changed little since before 1775 when poles were added to German gymnastic competitions for what was called a "vertical jump." It wasn't until 1850 that what you see today was made an official event in track and field.

For the student-athletes who have decided to commit their athletic careers to pole vaulting at The College at Brockport there is a certain thrill from launching yourself six feet or more into the air with only a mat to catch your fall. The goal is to be able to clear the bar at the highest vertical height. For some people being that high off the ground would be intimidating, but for Golden Eagles have been able to reign in any fear and use it as an advantage in this event.

For pole vaulter Josh Steinman this historical sport has been an extension of sorts from wrestling. His high school wrestling coach actually recommended that he give it a try which tends to be a common way for athletes to be introduced to this event. For Whitman Oehler-Marx he discovered pole vaulting on his own as he tried to find his niche in the array of sports available at his high school. No matter how they got into the sport it seems as though the only thing that runs through a vaulters mind before they stick the pole into the box and it hits the back sending them into the air using their momentum is a list of "cues."

"Cues are specific elements of form that are easy to focus on," Marx wrote in an email. "For example, one cue might be to have your hands high at take off, or to swing through with a straight left leg (or right of you are a lefty!). Every pole-vaulter will run through a short list of cues in their head before they start their approach, highlighting the pieces of their form that need the most improvement and will ultimately get them over the bar they are faced with."

By looking at the criteria, upper body strength, speed and more, some people might think that pole vaulting is a man's world. However, this isn't true.

"If there is I'm not aware of it! It is amazing how many talented women are jumping just in our area," Marx wrote. "I feel that pole vaulting attracts quite a few gymnasts, which is predominantly a female sport."

Pole vaulting is one of the few sports where men and women are treated equally. But it wasn't always that way. When the Olympics we're familiar with began in 1896, women were not even allowed to participate, according to the New York Times. When female pole vaulter and U.S. Gold Medalist Stacy Dragila first attempted to begin her vaulting career she was told by her male counterparts that she would not be able to overcome the gender gap.

Dragila did clear the gender bar that was set for her at an unbelievable height and brought home a gold medal for the event in 2000. Thanks to Dragila and other trailblazing female vaulters women now have the opportunity to compete in this sport with little gender discrimination.

Regardless, not getting enough momentum and falling backwards onto the runway is one of the most intimidating things about pole vaulting. As time goes by, athletes like Steinman say that fear is no longer a factor.

"The equipment for pole vault is designed to minimize the risks of vaulting as much as it can," Steinman wrote in an email. "I have full confidence that my coach will help me make the decision that puts me in the best situation to succeed and be safe as well. After a while fear is not a factor and you learn to live for the feeling of the pole shooting you as high as possible into the air and over a new crossbar."

In every sport having a great coach is an advantage and fortunately here at Brockport the Golden Eagles are taught to vault by one of the most respected coaches in Division III: Andy Fetzner. Fetzner graduated from Brockport in 2005 after having earned second-team All-SUNYAC honors in track and field during his senior year, according to gobrockport.com. His commitment extends outside of the college as well as Fetzner runs his own pole vaulting clinic in Brockport alongside training our Golden Eagles.

"The number one safety precaution is good coaching! Without a knowledgeable coach you are sure to get hurt," Marx wrote. "There are many factors that come into pole vaulting such as grip height, weight of pole and take off mark. These all play into how safe a jump is and we fortunately have one of the greatest coaches in D3, Andrew Fetzner. He is able to analyze all of these factors and safely progress each athlete to jumping to their maximum potential."

As the track and field teams begin the outdoor season both the men's and women's teams' pole vaulters are ready to clear their own goals whether that be shooting for nationals like Marx or looking to claim an all-American title like Steinman.

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