From The Editor — June 2003: it’s time for the rulesmakers to leave the pole vault alone

THE POLE VAULT FIGURES PROMINENTLY in this issue. On p. 56 you’ll find our story on how the new shorter pegs on the standards are wreaking havoc with one of the most popular of events. And on p. 61 “We Think” rants about how the IAAF for the second time in two years has come up with a rule change leading to a reduction in clearances when it should be looking for ways to increase them.

Here’s another aspect of the story. The length of the pegs is only part of the problem. At the same time—as the diagram on p. 56 shows—IAAF rulesmakers also enacted a new ruling that the ends of the crossbars have to be semicircular instead of square. The rationale for this is that it ensures that the same side of the bar is always facing in the same direction, so all vaulters will get the same amount of sag.

This led to a virtual square-peg-round-hole problem. The new rules say the bar ends “shall have a semicircular cross-section” and be 30–35mm wide. The bar, which attaches to the ends, must be 30mm in diameter. Oops! Geometry shows a circle of 30mm diameter can’t fit inside a semicircle of 35mm diameter.

Equipment makers, quickly realizing this fact, approximated semicircular bar ends, shaping them in D or Omega configurations, only to have officials reject them for not being exactly semicircular until the IAAF issued a clarification. The clarification only further confused some vaulters, who thought it OKed old-style square bar ends, which it did not.

All of which leads me to the same elemental question I’ve posed in this space more than once: why couldn’t they just leave the pole vault alone? On a per-performance basis, I don’t think there’s any event in the sport that generates more oohs and aahs. Just let them jump. And let them jump more rather than less.

KUDOS TO UC SAN DIEGO and coach Tony Salerno. On p. 22 you’ll find our discovery that thought-to-be-record discus performances at UCSD have been invalidated by a downhill field. UCSD gets credit for doing two things which I suspect are too often not followed in the record-application process: they actually had a field survey and they subsequently fessed up when the facility proved to be illegal.

It’s nice to have your faith in human nature restored. I worry that all too often officials look the other way in this kind of situation, saying “Athlete X is too good a person to lose record credit.” The problem with that line of thinking, of course, is what about Athlete Y, who previously held the record, or Athlete Z who down the road might have a mark better than the old one but not as good as the supposed record? Chances are they’re equally good people. Emotion can’t enter into it.

There are probably also officials who rationalize that the rule itself is too onerous. Nobody could keep a straight face while claiming that Suzy Powell’s mark deserved record status after discovering it was more than a yard downhill. But at what point would you look the other way? The landing-area rules, it seems to me are pretty stiff. A 1:1000 slope means that at a 230-foot (70m) length the maximal offset is only about 3 inches (7cm). When you figure in how inexact a science finding the “landing spot” of a flat plate on a hard surface is, it strikes me that that 3-inches is just too harsh.

On the other hand, like so many events in track & field, discus results are measured to a level of precision which defies logic and only leads to a sport that’s far too complicated for the average fan to enjoy. But that’s a rant for another day.