TABLE WITH SERGEY BUBKA
July 20-21 Kingston, Jamaica
the 9th IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championship held in Kingston
Jamaica; RDC San Juan in conjunction with ILICS Spirit organized
a Pole Vault Clinic. Together with the coaches in charge of the
aforementioned workshop, the world record holder and many times
Olympic and World Champion, Sergey Bubka was also invited to participate.
He shared with the participants, in a very precise and profound
way, experiences and knowledge built on more than 20 years of his
involvement in the elite circle.
In an open discussion, questions from the participants led Bubka
to talk freely about his beginnings, technical aspects, training,
Following are the more significant contents of the discussions:
Q. What is your point of view on the
advantages and importance of the free take off?
A. In pole vaulting the crucial factor is how to transfer
energy to the pole, through the complete body of the vaulter; the
arms, shoulders, hip, back and legs. But, if the pole begins to
bend while the vaulter is yet on the ground, it is impossible to
transfer the energy, all the energy is lost and goes to the box.
The point is, how to achieve this? The free take off is a very short
period of time, we can say no more than hundreds of a second, going
from the end of the take off and the moment in which the tip of
the pole reaches the end of the box. But this very short time makes
a big difference that allows the competitor to greatly improve the
When we begin to bend the pole, while being on the ground, we can
see an arched position of the body, on the other hand, if we perform
a free take off we can feel the pushing action of the whole body,
and we can transfer the speed of the run up and take off.
Additionally, we can increase the angle between the pole and the
ground in the moment of taking off. This angle is a very important
technical factor, because the bigger this angle, the better the
But this angle must be achieved with a complete extension of the
body, and mainly, keeping that short difference between the full
extension of the body and the tip of the pole reaching the end of
is a crucial factor, but at the same time, it is not easy to achieve.
During my career, I was able to do it some times.
That difference in time, is a safe difference, it is not dangerous,
and in order to achieve it, you must be in very good form, not only
physical but technical and mental as well. When you can do it, you
can increase the angle of the pole in relation with the ground.
For this reason, the way you run with the pole becomes very important.
The lowering of the pole in the last strides and the action you
perform with the arms in order to perform a good take off are crucial.
The action of the arms must be to the front and up, if you lower
your left hand, you loose control on the pole.
autumn, I began to work with a pole vaulter who asked me to help
him. I gave him the material related to the free take off, this
material was produced by Petrov. In the first days of training,
the vaulter was very busy, training and writing down the workouts
we were doing, so he had no time to read the material about the
free take off. In the third day of training, he had the chance to
read it. The first concept that you develop about it, is that it
could be dangerous, or extremely difficult to do, but when at the
same time you are practicing it, you realize that the vaulter becomes
the boss of the action, on the opposite, if you don't master this
action, you depend on the pole. My colleague told me that if he
had only read the material, without practicing the action, he would
have thought that it was impossible to achieve.
Q. Which kind of specific drills do you practice
in order to master this action?
A. Basically we did a lot of drills while walking, imitating
the action, then we added some run up strides, but more important
is to understand the basics and what you want to do. It is also
important to make many repetitions of drills, and the coach must
have the capacity to create and vary the drills in order to achieve
the goal. It has to do with the task of developing thinking athletes,
rather than giving them an instruction and wait on them to do the
task. It is very useful to help the athletes with questions like:
"What was your feeling?" or "What was the mistake?",
"Why?", "What is the cause?".
Q. Which is the correct way of performing
the last three strides?
A. The last three strides are very important, they must be
very compact in order to be able to increase speed. The movement
must begin with your right hand, which cannot be behind the hip
axis. If the hand is slightly forward, it is possible to move the
arms to the front and upwards.
When you do the penultimate touch down, on the right foot for a
vaulter who takes off with the left leg, the right hand must be
at eyes' level, in front of the face and with the arm flexed at
the elbow 90 degrees. In the meantime, the pole must be lowering
towards the box. Both arms must be very active, it is not necessary
to extend the right arm upwards when you are still on the right
foot, in that case you will perform the take off closer to the box
Q. How would you describe the action
of bending the pole?
A. Before the fiber glass pole, pole vaulters put their focus
on moving the pole, then, when the flexible pole appeared many people
put their focus on bending the pole. The pole bends as a result
of the speed and mass of the jumper,therefore, it is more important
to concentrate more on moving the pole towards the plane of the
bar, rather than being aware of bending it. If the vaulter can put
all his speed to the pole, the bending of the pole will happen in
a very natural way and this, together with a good height of grip
will ensure good results.
Q. Some years ago an article appeared
in which the author stated that you use to jump with a stiff pole,
and with a run up of six strides you could determine the height
of grip or take off efficiency....
A. It is true, we utilized this drill, but why? The bending
poles allow you to hide technical mistakes, on the contrary, stiff
poles immediately hurts you. I don't exactly remember, but I think
I had a grip height of around 4.20 or 4.25 mts. With stiff poles,
if you do the right action, you can feel where you are, and from
then on you can increase the grip a height.
Q. Where is your point of focus?
A. To the front, many jumpers look at the box, the box doesn't
move, it is always there. I think it has to do with mental pressure
or being scared.
Q. It was published that you carried
the pole in a very vertical position in order to minimize the weight
of the pole; then in a distance of between 19 to 25 mts, away from
the box you began to lower the pole at the same run up speed. Could
you tell in which moment or where you begin to lower the pole?
A. Around 6 to 10 strides before the take off position. It
has to do with Vitaly Petrov's concept of how to be ready for the
most important phase of the jump.
Q. Which is the exact moment to start
the inversion phase, and in which position is the body in the moment
of maximum bend of the pole?
A. Let us start with the second part. The body must be inverted
in the moment of maximum bend of the pole, with both legs vertical
and upwards. If you perform a wrong take off action, the pole bends
too soon and in doing so you don't recoil energy from the pole.
The first question has to do with this point too. The concept must
be to make a very dynamic movement, going into penetration and long
pendulum phases, in order to be as soon as possible in the inverted
position. By doing so, you ensure the movement of the pole. In this
point is very important a good development of the gymnastics abilities
of the jumper.
Q. How do you increase the confidence
of a pole vaulter?
A. From my point of view, as long as you increase strength,
speed and technical efficiency, you also increase your confidence.
You also need to have a sound mental picture of the action, be able
to repeat the jump mentally. I think it is very useful to focus
on the weak points of the jump and be able to see them as if you
are looking at a film.
Q. During a competition, how do you
manage to keep focus and avoid distractions?
A. It depends on your ability to plan everything beforehand,
what to do and all the things that can happen. You ought to be ready
for rain, for a noisy crowd in the stands. If during a jump, you
can listen to the public, it means that you were not focused enough.
But there are also other types of distractions. For example, prior
to the European Championships in Stutgart 1986, 1 had many meetings
with students, workers, sportsmen. That was great, but it has a
big effect on my performance during the competition. I was fully
focused, and during the event I found myself in a situation I had
never been before. In a given height I needed the third attempt
to pass. This fact is very demanding, put you under big stress,
after this moment I came back and finally won the competition.
Two months later, I began to have the help of a very good Psychologist,
and when I told him about that experience, he told me that all the
meetings, presentations I had done, made me loose mental energy,
energy that I must save to train and compete. After that experience,
two months prior to a big competition my only activities were train
and rest. Coming back to competition, you must be ready for everything,
I took my umbrella, something to dry the box and the take off point,
because many times officials don't do this. But in case it begin
to rain, you must assume it is not raining at all, you must be mentally
strong because many times, the event can't be postponed, for example
when it is scheduled for the last day of the meeting, and you must
jump and be able to produce good results anyway.
Mental preparation has to do with decisions athletes have to make
under big pressure. If you have a fault at a given height, and you
choose to pass the remaining attempts for the next height, let us
say 5 cm higher which is not very significant but can make
the difference between being out of the medals or winning the competition
you can take risks, but they are calculated risks.
Q. How do you describe the penetration
of a pole vaulter?
A. We need to develop strength, speed, and at the same time
we need to develop technique and gymnastics abilities. We can say
that the training of a vaulter is very close to that of a decathlonist,
we need a very broad development in terms of capacities.
Q. What were the factors that allowed
you to jump with longer and stiffer poles, was it your level of
strength and or speed?
A. I think people tends to think I am stronger, physically
speaking than I really am. When I was 15 or 16 years old, it seemed
as if I would be very big and strong, that made me try to eat less
in order not to increase my body weight, I would never be able to
pole vault. Towards the end of the 70s, my coach tried to convince
me of doing decathlon, but I told him I wanted to stay with the
pole vault. When I got my first poles in 1984, the Federation sent
me to compete in the USA, in the indoor season. I was still worried
about not increasing my body weight, because if that happened I
would not be able to use the poles.
Actually, some of them were so stiff that I only could use them
in the 90s. I think that the important thing, is how much of your
strength and speed you can use while actually jumping. Somebody
can run the 100 mts in 11 seconds, but if he does the proper movements,
in the exact moment, he can jump very high. Same approach with weight
training, we did a lot of weight training, but our goal was not
to be extremely strong, we are not weight lifters, but to be able
to use that level of strength in the jump action.
There are vaulters like Britts, who are stronger than I am, physically
speaking. For example my best result in bench press was around 130
or 135 kg, while he has something around 160 kg. The bench press
is important for pole vaulting, but it is a general movement that
helps to develop physically, but when we jump we must do specific
movements which we need to develop and improve in our vaulters.
When we met with Vitaly, we put everything on paper, and I was over
the mean values in everything. In speed, strength, gymnastics abilities,
mental preparation, coordination and all those factors gave me stability.
If I had a technical mistake I could compensate it with my physical
But if you ask me about which is more important, the development
of the physical capacities or technical abilities, my answer will
be only one, technical abilities. These abilities help you to survive
in different situations, while the development of physical capacities
is not so difficult.
On the other hand it is more difficult to teach proper and sound
technical elements, frequently you develop physical capacities and
you can record this progress, for example in speed or strength,
but one can't find the same improvement in the vaulting performance,
we must be able to transfer that potential to the technical factors.
Q. How did you begin?
A. I began to do Sports in the streets, I was a very "sporting"
boy. Then my coach at school communicated with Petrov and asked
him to teach me pole vault. At first he said no, because I was too
young, only 10 years old and he coached boys of 14 15 years of age
but my coach finally convinced him, that was my beginning.
Q. Beginning with the first World Championships
in 1983, there have been 7 World Championships and you won 5 of
them, you also got an Olympic gold medal. How do you keep your motivations?
A. I learned from very great athletes, whom after having
achieved good results, the next day went on training, trying to
do even better next time. What you did yesterday is past, moreover,
you always make mistakes that you can avoid the next day. For me
it was important the example of Bob Beamon, who after producing
a fantastic result, tried to improve it.
Q. You have developed a pole vault school
in your country. What is the role that the coach plays during a
A. Many times I see coaches who send a lot of messages, move
their arms and shout from the stands. I think that all the work
has to be done previously, we can do very little in the moment of
competition but there is another point the athlete must be
knowledgeable of his event with a high level of motor awareness.
What happen if the coach, in a given moment, sends a message which
has nothing to do with what the athlete felt?
What to do, from the point of view of the athlete? Follow his own
kinesthetic feelings, or follow the message sent by the coach from
This is a very important element to consider, and as coaches we
must work beforehand and have less participation during the competition.
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