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EDUCATION IS THE KEY TO POLE VAULT SAFETY
A LETTER TO THE NCAA NEWS, PUBLISHED APRIL 29, 2002
Kevin Dare, a
Pennsylvania State University track and field athlete, died from injuries
sustained at the 2002 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships due to an
errant vault. In the wake of this tragedy, Ralph Lindeman, track coach at the
U.S. Air Force Academy and USTCA/Division I Track Coaches Association president,
called for a meeting of pole vault coaches, head-coaches and others interested
in the event, The meeting was held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 8, the first
day of the Division I Men's and Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Those who attended possessed a passion for the pole vault event and its future and expressed genuine concern and commitment for pole vault safety.
Safety is of paramount importance in every sporting activity, whether it be football, gymnastics, golf or track and field. The pole vault has undergone many changes in the past 40 years, and corresponding safety measures have been adopted to match the changing nature of the event. Unfortunately, sometimes tragedy is the trigger of a greater sense of urgency.
Jan Johnson, a coach, clinician and 1972 Olympic bronze medalist in the pole vault, is the USATF pole vault safety coordinator. He has researched catastrophic injuries sustained due to pole vault-related accidents over the past 30 years.
Notable in his research is that statistically there is a much greater chance for catastrophic injury for the collegiate pole vaulter than high-school pole vaulter, based on athlete opportunities and reported incidents.
Johnson has suggested several safety measures for collegiate pole vault that are either legislative or educational All are designed to prevent high-risk choices and ensure adequate equipment! environment for the demand of the event
Johnson's recommendations generated a great deal of discussion at the March 8 meeting. Some of the suggestions gained unanimous support, while it was apparent that others would need to be discussed further before a consensus could be reached
A minimum standard, setting of 45 centimeters (about 1 foot, 6 inches) as measured from the back (pit side) of the planting box to the position of the cross bar horizontally above the pit This reinforces the vaulter leaving the pole when it is passing through a vertical position and the athlete is above the pit. Current regulations allow the athlete to vault with the standards at 0 centimeters. A miscalculation with this setting could be tragic. Cost nothing.
Adopt new high-school pit-size regulations, including standard base pad. regulations. The use of box collars, padded protection around the planting box, was held in reserve due to problems associated with current designs. The pit-size recommendation for high schools came from meetings at the American Society of Tests and Measurements in December 2001. The pit-size recommendation is to provide adequate protection for athletes vaulting up to the 19-foot level (almost all collegiate athletes). Cost Minimal. Many, if not most collegiate programs, already have landing pits that comply with the size recommendation.
Mandatory education certification via video or satellite feed for all collegiate vaulters and coaches. This risk- management video could possibly include accreditation of camps/clinics. Cost: Minimal production and video cost.
Paint a coaches box or target landing area on the pit (coaches at the meeting endorsed this). This would enhance awareness regarding proper landing sites and prompt necessary corrections. The rectangular box measures 10 feet Wide by 8 feet deep, centered on the pit with the line closest to the runway 3 feet, 6 inches back from the center of the stop board of the planting box. Cost Can of paint.
High-school athletes are not allowed to use poles that are rated below their body weight and may not hold higher than the manufacturer's recommendations. Many who attended the safety meeting felt that because of the size and physical capabilities of some beginning athletes at the collegiate level (for example, decathletes), similar legislation could actually create more problems than it would solve. Education was cited as the key to making proper coaching decisions in regard to pole selections that ensure both safety and athletics success.
Ban the use of "taps"
in competition warm-up periods (coaches were split on this issue). Taps are an
assistance measure by the coach or another athlete whereby the vaulter is
pushed or "tapped" forward in the direction of the pit at the moment of
takeoff Taps typically are used to provide the vaulter with help (mental
and/or physical) in using a bigger pole.
It is important to note that the Reno Pole Vault Summit has been an important forum for educating and testing not only performance techniques but safety issues as well. Standard setting and a no-tap rule have been in use at the Summit It is my sincere hope that the NCAA will provide support for the Reno Pole Vault Summit as a needed educational opportunity and a timely gathering of the professional coaching body.
We will meet again at the Division I Men's and Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships to revisit these issues after coaches have had time to discuss issues with their peers and digest the rationale.
Coaches and athletes are responsible for their actions and results. Knowledge and education are tools to provide coaches and athletes with the ability to make appropriate decisions, and it is our responsibility to do all we can to ensure student-athlete safety during our events.
Dave Nielsen, Head Track and Field Coach, Idaho State University
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