The loneliness of the long-distance pole-vaulter, by Stuart Weir


Stuart Weir has been traveling the world, writing pieces for RunBlogRun. He wrote for us in Belgrade, then, World Relays, and now, Doha Diamond League. This piece made me smile. I hope that you enjoy it. Katie Nageotte, we look forward to seeing you at your next meet!

The loneliness of the long-distance pole-vaulter

I met Katie Nageotte at the luggage carrousel at Doha airport a few days before the Diamond League. I was waiting for my suitcase. She was more anxious about her poles.

I had never given much thought to the challenges pole-vaulters face in competing around the world. For Katie - and all other pole-vaulters - it is a way of life. She shared with me the effort involved in getting your poles to the competition: "It's not the most fun! But that is the sport. Ideally we just try to check them as regular luggage. Mostly everything is confirmed ahead of time but sometimes they don't show up, sometimes they get broken in half. I have not had that happened but I have heard about it. So for every vaulter it is an added stress because we can't do what we do without poles. If you get to a meet and the poles are not there, you are screwed".

Katie tweeted a photo of herself smiling with the caption: "The moment you know your poles are on the plane". She explained more to me: "It really is a moment of huge relief when they show up and you see them there, 'yes' - it is the best feeling, especially if you have a tight flight connection. I think it's stressful enough worrying about regular luggage but more so with poles. A lot of time people don't want to deal with them and throw them to the side. Luckily I've never had a bad experience getting the poles to competitions but you hear of horror stories. I don't enjoy carrying them around but I need them so I cannot imagine how miserable it is for the people working for the airlines getting them on to the planes. But as athletes, we are a super appreciative". British pole-vaulter, Sally Peake, experienced the loss of all her poles in a flight. They were worth about $ 5,000 and the insurance would only pay part of the cost.

When Katie's poles are located at the airport it is good news but there is still the issue of getting them to the hotel. The meet had only sent a minibus. The only way to get the poles in was through the front window!

Having got them safely to the hotel is good but only the beginning. Katie explains what happens next: "Typically the hotel will find a space to keep them - here in Doha it's on the lobby level. Yesterday I went to practice and we had to load them on to the bus again and carry them over to the practice area. Then for some reason they did not want us to keep them at the track. So we have to load them back on to the bus and bring them back. Today I think I will do my shake-out in the hotel to make it a little easier. It is always a bit of a struggle - pole vaulters are high maintenance".

I also wondered why Katie needed 8-10 poles. I wished I had not asked! She told me: "They are different lengths, different weights, different thickness, different flex. You use some of them to warm up from a shorter approach, not running your full length then you have bigger ones for the full approach. Then you have different ones for your full approach - bigger than for the short approach. Then as you get going throughout the competition, you want stiffer ones - as you're going faster and with adrenalin to launch even higher.

"From the start of the warm up to the end of the competition the pole-vaulter would love to get through all the poles in their bag. On a good day you would hear people say, "I got on my biggest pole" - usually that is the longest and the stiffest one. So if you do that, it's a really good day. But typically I would say there are two possibly three that you don't touch, depending on the conditions on the day - tail wind and other factors".

Katie vaulted well in Doha - a season's best of 4.45. At least there was a happy ending - ending, well yes, apart from the small matter of getting the poles back home...and then to the next event.

I left Doha full of admiration for the pole-vaulter.

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