JUN 28, 2017 06:47 AM PDT
Pole Vaulting: Physics in Flight
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Pole vaulting is one of the more graceful and yet demanding sports at the Olympics. The pole is lightweight and flexible and yet athletes with incredible strength and muscle mass use it to sail, seemingly effortlessly, over a bar that is set higher and higher. It takes more than strength and muscles however. The pole vault is an event that involves a good deal of physics and anyone who tries it must understand the mechanics of getting each move just right, not only to avoid injury but to go higher than the competition.

While height is the goal, a vaulter must start out moving forward horizontally and then transfer his or her kinetic energy from the body to the flexible pole. Because it's so lightweight and so strong, the pole acts as a spring and once planted, the vaulters energy is transferred to the pole, projecting the athlete upwards. By keeping the body straight and going over the bar lengthwise, feet first and the body following, with arms outstretched, there is enough energy to clear it. Keeping the body outstretched also makes it move through the air more efficiently, with less drag. The speed at which the runner goes is also key. Faster runners will transfer more energy to the pole, resulting in more upward thrust, and, hopefully, clearing a higher bar than competitors.

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