Keeping track of track: part 2

Now presenting the second half of The Concordian’s guide to track and field events. Featured this week: pole vaulting, high jump, shot put and relay.

Shot put

The shot put event involves throwing a weighted ball, or “shot,” in a pushing motion as far as the thrower can forward into a fanned area.

The thrower stands in the metal shot put ring, which measures seven feet across. Once inside the circle, the thrower may exit unless he or she throws. If he or she does, it results in a foul.

There is also a stopboard about four inches high in the front part of the circle. This stopboard is helpful in making sure the thrower doesn’t trip.

Freshman thrower Ashley Thompson said that the stopboard has saved her a few times when she has messed up a part of her throw.

“I throw in all conditions of rain or shine, which can be very dangerous and you can easily trip, bruise, and get cut up from falling out of the ring,” Thompson said.

Thompson said that the technique involved in the throw starts with resting the shot near one’s neck with one hand and keeping it tight up against the neck throughout the entire first part of the motion.

The second part of the motion happens when the thrower pushes the shot straight up and out above his or her shoulder.

Thompson said the throw as a whole should be very quick and forceful, much like a basketball shot. The arm guides the shot, while the whole body powers it.

One misconception that Thompson said a lot of people have about throwers is that all the strength comes form the upper body.

“Throwing is a very full body movement,” Thompson said. “People underestimate the power of the lower body. That’s where the force and the agility comes from and you need at least three times more lower body than upper body strength.”

Thompson said that throwers do a lot of squats and footwork to maintain their throwing power.

Pole vault

In pole vaulting, there are five primary phases to performing a vault: the approach, the plant and take off, the row phase, the invert and the turn.

The approach happens as the vaulter sprints down the runway from a certain distance back and prepares for the plant. Next, the vaulter plants the pole into a pitted metal box and jumps to take off with his or her hands straight above his or her head. In the row phase, which comes next, the vaulter swings his or her legs to his or her hands in a “U” formation. This is known as the row phase because it looks as if the vaulter is rowing the pole.

After this, the vaulter “inverts,” extend their body completely straight to propel them over the bar without hitting it. The last phase is the turn in which the vaulter turns his or her shoulders completely over the bar, in a motion like he or she has pivoted around the bar.

After all the phases are complete, the vaulter properly pushes his or her pole away from the bar and falls back spread eagle, not on his or her feet.

Performing each phase correctly ensures a successful vault, sophomore vaulter Connor Baker said.

“Pole vaulting feels like you are defying gravity,” Baker said. “And it can be challenging to learn all the techniques and body angles.  However, the great thing is that you learn something new everyday.”

Baker also says that pole vaulting requires a lot of core strength, especially in the row phase. He said that a vault requires about 60 percent upper body strength and 40 percent lower body strength.

A pole vaulter must being able to handle the high-risk and stress of the sport.  Baker said that because each vault takes so much energy, vaulters can only vault 8 to 10 times per meet.

“Some guys like to start the bar at low heights in the beginning of meets and work their way up to their desired height,” Baker said, “But I usually start the bar at 13 feet and jump from there, because you only have a few jumps in you before you get too tired.”

Baker said that because performing an actual vault takes so much energy, a lot of time practicing for pole vaulting is spent visualizing.  He usually visualizes right before each vault and multiple times after to stay focused on exactly what his body will do when the time comes.

Baker said good training and visualization was what propelled the vaulters to qualify for indoor track MIAC Championships this year.

“My favorite moment was when I found out I made it to MIAC,” Baker said. “We had five of our vaulters compete in it at St. Olaf two weeks ago, and it has been one of my all-time highs of this year.”


The 4×200 and 4×400 relays each consist of teams of four runners who individually run 200 to 400 meters around the track and pass off a baton between each person.

Sophomore relay-runner Ben Vickstrom emphasized that the baton pass was the most critical moment in the relay.

As the first person ends their turn and rounds the track for the baton pass, the receiving runner needs to be on the outer side of the lane in order to more easily grasp the baton. When the first person approaches, the receiver needs to try to match the speed of the incoming runner in three steps forward while turning around with their left hand back and their palm facing up to receive the baton. The incoming runner slaps the baton on their open hand and if it is a successful baton passing, Vickstrom said it would lose no time in the race.

“I’ve seen plenty of teams where the entire race is botched by two guys not taking enough time to get the baton passing right,” Vickstrom said.

Vickstrom said that being able to stay focused on your own running is another key component to a successful relay. He said that for him it is often difficult not to be distracted by the other runners.

In order to keep control in the last second half of the race on the straight section of the track, he stares straight ahead.  If there are other runners around him he gauges their speed by looking at their chest in comparison to his.

Vickstrom said he runs best at the front of the pack. This motivates him to run faster and push harder to be first.

Vickstrom said relay running allows a unique camaraderie to develop. It is infinitely more enjoyable because you can share the experience with other runners that have put the same amount of time and effort into the event as you have.

“I like doing the relays because it is usually the last event of the meet,” Vickstrom said, “that means that the rest of the team has finished their events and are cheering for you. It pushes you harder hearing your teammates screaming in your ear over every corner.”

High jump

The two most important parts of the high jump are the approach and the take off.

The approach starts with the jumper a certain number of strides away from the bar. The jumper must ensure that he or she puts enough space between him or herself and the bar to allow him or herself to build up enough speed and energy to propel his or her body into the take off. The jumper must take off on one foot and angle his or her body so as to allow his or herself the most clearance over the bar. If the jumper does not touch or move the bar and lands on the mat, they have cleared that height and the score is measured from the ground to the bar.

Each jumper gets three tries to clear a certain bar height and after each height the bar is moved up five centimeters. Once the competition has been narrowed down to three to five jumpers, the bar is moved up by three centimeters each time.

Jumpers have various techniques for clearing the bar and different preferences for what heights they like to start from.

Senior high jumper Simon Erlandson said that his technique is to start at a six foot height and go higher from there. Other jumpers usually start from smaller heights to build up confidence.

“It all depends on whatever makes you feel more confident,” Erlandson said. “Since I am a senior…I am setting my goal high to start with so I can push myself to larger heights.”

Most jumpers start at heights of around five feet and work towards heights of around seven feet.

“High jumping is all a big mental test and it can be draining,” Erlandson said. “You need to be mentally prepared, not just physically prepared.”


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