04 February, 2020

How to pole vault with Katerina Stefanidi

  • © Gladys Chai von der Laage

Today is Katerina Stefanidi's birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to revisit our exclusive pole vault coaching session with the four-time Diamond League Champion last season?

"Everything hurts. My back hurts, my arms are tired. I am dehydrated and I have a headache. Everything is covered in sweat."

Pole vault looks easy, right? You just glide down the runway, jam the pole in the ground and hang onto it for a few seconds. Then you sail several metres into the air feet first, before flipping over a bar and making sure not to fall on your head on the way back down. Easy.

Perhaps not. In reality, vaulting is one of the most technically demanding disciplines in athletics. It requires precision, guts, strength and the coolest of cool heads. To do it for a living, you also need at least a sprinkling of craziness.

To find out just how tough the pole vault can be, we teamed up with Greek legend Katerina Stefanidi and her coach and husband Mitchell Krier ahead of last year's Diamond League final in Zurich. Their task was to teach the noble art of pole vaulting to our very own Tom Byrne in the space of just one afternoon.

Should Stefanidi be crowned Wanda Diamond League Champion for a fifth successive season later this year, she will probably do so with a jump close to the five-metre mark. Mr. Byrne, on the other hand, had a more humble target in mind. Having picked up the basics, he wanted to break Mutaz Essa Barshim's high jump Diamond League record of 2.43m.

Before he could get anywhere near that, however, he needed a crash course, and one which would literally involve a few crashes. Under the careful guidance of Krier and Stefanidi, our Liverpudlian learner worked himself into the ground in the pursuit of pole vault glory until, in his own words, everything hurt and everything was covered in sweat. 

On his journey from pole vault beginner to...err, slightly more experienced pole vault beginner, Tom learnt a few valuable lessons. Why it is safe to push the pole rather than hang onto it, why you can't afford to run like a football player, and why the run-up is the most important part of the jump.

Click on the video below to check out the tutorial and maybe learn something yourself. We promise by the end of the ten minutes, you will be a stride or two closer to becoming a pole vault champion. 

And speaking of pole vault champions: happy birthday, Ms Stefanidi!