ROUND TABLE WITH SERGEY BUBKA|
(Compilation by Pole
July 20-21 Kingston, Jamaica
During 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
In an open discussion, questions from the participants led Bubka to talk freely
about his beginnings, technical aspects, training, etc.
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 results.
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 result.
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 the box.
It 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.
Last 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
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 than recommended.
Q. How would you describe the action of bending the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 capacities.
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 competition?
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 the stands?
This is a very important element to consider, and as coaches we must work
beforehand and have less participation during the competition.