Katie Jones sets lofty goals, and Penn State’s senior pole vaulter has a habit of meeting them. Jones broke the school’s pole vault record on Jan. 29 with a mark of 4.27 meters at the Penn State National Open, then reset that record twice more in April, the last a vault of 4.31 meters at the Virginia Challenge. She breaks down the keys to a great vault.
Jones takes seven or eight poles to each meet and will switch to stiffer versions as the meet progresses and the bar height rises.
Vaulters have the option of setting the standards for the bar between 45 and 80 centimeters. Jones will move them up or back depending on factors such as pole stiffness or how much wind there is that day.
Jones alternates practice with and without a bar. During competition, it doesn’t enter her mind. “You never want to look at the bar, because you want to be completely inverted and then turn on the way up,” she says.
Jones, a former gymnast, takes 16 strides per vault and launches off her left foot, focusing on accelerating into the jump and keeping her hands high. Consistency is paramount. “If you run 3 inches too far or 3 inches short, it’s going to throw off the entire jump,” she says.