A Wonderful comeback and the bright future of Swedish pole vault, by Jonas Hedman


We asked Jonas Hedman to provide for us updates on Swedish athletics. In this column, Jonas writes about the return to prominence of Swedish pole vaulters.

Melker Svärd-Jacobsson_ASN6640.jpgMelker Svärd Jacobsson, Photo: Deca Text&Bild


A wonderful comeback and the bright future of Swedish pole vault

There are several young talented pole vaulters from Sweden that has reached the podium in international junior and youth championships in recent years and the most famous one is Angelica Bengtsson, 22. In 2015 she finished fourth in the World championships in Beijing with a Swedish record of 4.70 and set four national records prior to the meet. Another talented Swede is the one year younger Melker Svärd Jacobsson who took silver in the World Youth championships in 2011 but got seriously injured in 2015. Then, after a year of hell, he competed for the first time in 19 months and directly set a pb and made the Olympic qualifier which was in Austin, Texas, two weeks ago!

Melker jumped 5.45 indoors at age 17 in 2011 which was a World youth best at the time. Despite a badly twisted ankle in June the same year, when he landed in the box, he managed 5.15 in the World Youth championships in Villeneuve d'Ascq a month later and got silver. His progression continued and in February 2014 he jumped 5.65 indoors.
In the fall of 2014 he had surgery on both hips and the rehabilitation went well. But after four months, when he started jumping, he felt pain in his left groin and couldn't get rid of it. He tried everything and visited several doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors etc but no one could find the source to the pain. Finally he went to see the famous German doctor Hans Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfart who has treated athletes like Usain Bolt and many of the best soccer players. He found the problem, a weak muscle deep into the groin. A new surgery followed including rehabilitation and in December 2015 Melker could start jumping again.

Four straight heights in the first attempt
Already after a month he found the pole vault technique and feeling again and from then on everything progressed quickly. At the end of March he went to San Diego for a long camp at the US Olympic training center in Chula Vista. And at Texas Relays in Austin on 2 April he cleared the first four heights until 5.70 in his first attempt which was a 5 cm pb! That make him number seven on the Swedish all-time-list behind national record holder Oscar Janson (5.87 in 2003).

" It was truly a great feeling, I am so happy! Especially after all the trouble I had," says Melker who also made the Swedish Olympic qualifier which is 5.70.

One week later he cleared 5.55 in a meet in Westwood (Los Angeles) which he won in rainy conditions. He will stay in the US for another two weeks and participate in two more meets.

"One thing I have learned is that it's not a straight road to success in athletics. You have to be patient, it takes several years to reach international level. That's something I want to say to the young talents out there." said Melker.

Two Swedish World youth champions
In 2015 Sweden had great success in the World Youth championships in Cali, Colombia, where both Armand Duplantis, who was only 15 at the time, and Elienor Werner won gold in pole vault. Both set personal records, 5.30 and 4.26 respectively. Elienor had a winning margin of 21 cm (!) while Armand won on count back after clearing the height in his first attempt.

Armand, whose father is 5.80 pole vaulter Greg Duplantis, grew up in Lafayette, Lousiana, where he lives with his family which includes several brothers and sisters which competes in pole vault. His six years older brother Andreas has competed in the World youth as well as the World juniors and have a pb of 5.42 indoors from 2013. Their Swedish connection is mother Helena who is a former heptathlete and competed for the Swedish national team in the 1980's.

Last winter Armand became number two in the family when clearing 5.49 in Baton Rouge, LA, on 6 February. That was a U18 World best for a week until Emmanouíl Karalís from Greece jumped 5.53.

The interesting thing is that also the female U18 World best became a Swedish business during the winter when Lisa Gunnarsson, 16, cleared 4.47 in France and then 4.49 in Globen-galan in Stockholm on 17 February, both U18 World indoor bests.

Lisa Gunnarsson - another great talent

Lisa, who took silver at the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2015, lives in France with her Swedish family and met Swedish record holder Angelica Bengtsson, several times in French meets during the indoor season. At the Stockholm meet Lisa actually did beat her six years older country woman for the first time when finishing fourth in 4.49 with Angelica fifth in 4.39.

The two actually represents the same Swedish club, Hässelby SK in Stockholm which is one of the top-2 in Sweden, which also is Elienor Werner's club.

How is it going for Angelica Bengtsson?

She had a great year in 2015 finishing fourth in the World championships in Beijing and also won the U23 European championships (with country woman Michaela Meijer second) which was her sixth and final gold medal in international junior/youth championships. At the Swedish Athletics gala in Stockholm in November she won the title Athlete of the year in competition with men and women from all track and field events.
Angelica has lived in France for several years but suddenly moved back to Sweden in March where she will continue her preparations for the Olympic Games in Rio.

Except the young one's two time World championships finalist and Swedish indoor record holder (5.81 in 2009) Alhaji Jeng will be back on the runway this summer after a long absence due to injury. Still competing is also the national record holder (5.87 in 2003), Oscar Janson, who at age 40 is aiming for the Swedish M40 record, 5.21, who belongs to Kjell Isaksson. The latter one is the best Swedish pole vaulter of all time and set three officially recognized world records. The first one at 5.51 in Austin, Texas, on 8 April 1972 and the second at 5.54 in Los Angeles the week after on 15 April.

But it's the young guys we should watch out for in the future! Remember the names of Angelica Bengtsson, Armand Duplantis and Lisa Gunnarsson among others!

Jonas Hedman

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