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What is Olympic Pole Vault?


What is Olympic Pole Vault? In this highest-flying of Olympic track and field events, successful vaulters race down a runway, plant a long, flexible pole into a small box and soar gracefully through the air and over the bar.


Once the vaulter leaves the ground, he/she may not move the lower hand above the upper hand on the pole, nor may he/she move the upper hand higher on the pole. Vaulters also may not steady the bar with their hands during the vault. A successful vault is one in which the crossbar remains in place when the vaulter has left the landing area.

Competitors may begin vaulting at any height announced by the chief judge, or may pass, at their own discretion. Three consecutive missed vaults, at any height or combination of heights, will eliminate the vaulter from competition.


Pole vaulters' poles can be made of any material or combination of materials and may be of any length or diameter, but the basic surface must be smooth. The pole may have protective layers of tape at the grip and at the bottom end.

The runway is at least 40 meters long. Vaulters can place as many as two markers on the runway. Competitors plant their poles in a one-meter long box that’s 60 centimeters wide at the front and 15 centimeters wide at the back. The crossbar is 4.5 meters wide.


Athletes in the pole vault must achieve an Olympic qualifying height and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three competitors per country may compete in the pole vault.

During the 2004 Athens Games, 16 men and 14 women participated in their respective high jump finals after passing through a qualifying round. The victory goes to the vaulter who clears the greatest height during the final. If two or more vaulters tie for first place, the tie-breakers are: 1) The fewest misses at the height at which the tie occurred; and 2) The fewest misses throughout the competition.

If the event remains tied, the vaulters have a jump-off, beginning at the next greater height. Each vaulter has one attempt. The bar is then alternately lowered and raised until only one vaulter succeeds at a given height.

Read more about Olympic Pole Vault Rules and Scoring.

Back to Olympic Pole Vault main page

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