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Standards for Pole Vaulting

It happens all the time. Accidents occur and solutions are proposed, but all too often a small group of volunteers must push the limits of their resources to bring about needed improvement.

So it is with the stakeholders (literally) of active or experienced pole vaulters on a new ASTM task force. The group includes an orthopedic surgeon, a bronze-medal Olympian, an MIT biomechanic, equipment specialists, trainers, and others who are funding studies to support the development of voluntary consensus standards for pole vaulting. Part of ASTM Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities, the group operates in Subcommittee F08.52 on Miscellaneous Playing Surfaces.

According to the task force chairman, Eddie Seese, public and private organizations want these standards. “We’re doing this for sanctioning organizations,” he said, naming USA Track and Field, The National Federation of State High School Associations, National Collegiate Athletic Association, and International Amateur Athletic Federation. “The High School Federation has stated that they will adopt it as soon as we produce it. We’re still trying to find grant money to do the testing.”

The sport’s origin is attributed to creative Europeans who pole vaulted over canals. Gravitating to sportsdom, height, not distance, became the goal. An elevation of 10’ 6” (about 3.2 m) was reached with a bamboo pole in the 1896 Olympics; Sergey Bubka’s hoist of 20’ 1.75” (6.14 m) is the current world record.

Today, highly breakable fiberglass poles are the norm. One vaulter related an episode where, enroute to a meet, he retrieved broken poles from airport baggage. The poles pose both performance and safety issues and the task force is considering the following:

• A test of flexural properties to determine a universal and scientifically reasonable measure of flexibility to aid manufacturers tailoring hundreds of pole sizes.
• A test of the deflection of poles to reduce catastrophic failure, such as the “angle” poles should be bent, perhaps more than 90 degrees to represent commonly occurring situations.
• The frequency of destructive testing.
• Integration of existing ASTM standards to test pole and beam deflection.
• A test of internal damping within poles. If poles differ significantly in the internal damping they exhibit, measuring the flexural stiffness may not be sufficient to properly convey pole-dynamic properties to the user. Studies are needed to determine if this is a significant dynamic effect.

The task force found small-sized pole vaulting pits to be problematic. “We’re going to change the size requirements for the pits and make them bigger,” said Seese, a vaulter, trainer, and equipment consultant with 38 years in the sport. In one study, the task force reinvestigated a series of pole-vaulting accidents and they determined that 32 out of 34 accidents could have been eliminated if larger pits were used.

Industry and federation participation in this activity is invited. The group meets June 21-23 in Eugene, Ore., at the USATF National Championships.

Comments may be directed to Eddie Seese, Personal Record Sports, Vallejo, Calif. (phone: 707/645-8555). Committee F08 meets Nov. 6-9 in Dallas, Texas. For meeting or membership details, contact Staff Manager Jim Olshefsky, ASTM (phone: 610/832-9714). //\

Copyright 2001, ASTM