Olympic Track 2012: Pole Vault Rebellion Throws Event into Disarray
After nearly two hours of competition in the men’s pole vault qualification at the 2012 Summer Olympics, the athletes had had enough. They started a discussion, first among themselves and then with the officials, that led to what the Twitterverse is calling the #PoleVaultersMutiny.
Led by 2008 gold medalist Steven Hooker of Australia, the negotiations concentrated on how many participants would be allowed into the final. Only 12 competitors were scheduled to be in contention for a medal on Friday, but some of them felt it was taking too long to find those 12.
“I didn't really want to jump any more if I didn't have to, and I think everyone agreed with me,” Hooker told The Sydney Morning Herald.
At the start of qualifying, there were 32 competitors. By noon in London, two hours after the competition began, half of them had been eliminated. A committee of athletes began lobbying officials to allow all the remaining athletes into the final because the round had already gone on too long.
The 16 athletes still vaulting had cleared 5.50 meters, or 18 feet, 1/2 inches, many of them on their first attempt of the competition. Instead of continuing to make attempts as the bar went higher, Hooker and several others who cleared it on their first attempt—and thus had zero total misses—passed on jumping.
Others continued to make attempts at greater heights, with some passing and some, such as American Jeremy Scott, missing all three attempts. In the end, the officials decided to compromise and allow 14 athletes into the final instead of 12.
Looking at the final standings, 14 athletes qualified with heights of 5.50 meters or higher, but three who successfully jumped 5.50 meters did not qualify. Scott, Cuban Lazaro Borges and Russian Sergey Kucheryanu all had failures on their record.
The first tiebreaker in the pole vault is the fewest number of failures at the final height.
Of the nine total vaulters who ended at 5.50 meters, five—Hooker, Spaniard Igor Bychkov, Czech Jan Kudlicka, Brit Steven Lewis and Germans Malte Mohr and Bjorn Otto—had no failures at that height. Scott, Borges and Kucheryanu had one failure each at the 5.50-meter height.
This is one of the more bizarre situations at the Olympic Games yet, with the athletes essentially revolting against the rules of the competition to get what they want. Still, Hooker maintains that no rules were broken.
“We did everything by the book, and everyone is happy in the end,” he said via the Australian newspaper.
This is reminiscent of the 2012 United States Olympic Trials, where meet officials held an athlete vote by secret ballot among competing pole-vaulters to determine how to proceed when heavy rain made the event an unsafe proposition.
In the pole vault, more than any other event, it seems the athletes reign supreme.
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