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MAY 2018 ISSUE

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2018 VAULTER MAGAZINE

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CONTENTS y a M FROM THE EDITOR

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BUBBA SPARKS: A 52 YEAR LONG VAULTING JOURNEY THAT IS FAR FROM OVER

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EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN TEXAS: WORLD LEADING MARKS POSTED AT THE TEXAS RELAYS AND TEXAS INVITATIONAL

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Cover photo by Doug Bouma Vaulter Magazine

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FROM THE EDITOR The school season is coming to an end, and the high school kids are about ready to graduate or leave school and hit the road for summer. Soon the summer action will be strong, and the sun will be kissing the pole vaulters sky. Pole Vault news, “Lavillenie, Barber and Duplantis vault 5.92m at Texas Relays” (The highlight of the fourth and final day of the Texas Relays in Austin on Saturday (31) was a pole vault competition in which Renaud Lavillenie, Shawn Barber and Armand Duplantis all cleared 5.92m. (2018). (https://www.iaaf.org/news/report/texas-relays-2018-polevault) “Golden Newman shatters Commonwealth pole vault record” (The 23-year-old London star matched her Canadian record and shattered a 12-year-old Commonwealth Games mark by clearing 4.75 metres on her final attempt in a gold-medal performance

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Friday at Gold Coast, Australia.. (2018). Retrieved from (http://lfpress.com/sports/ local-sports/golden-newmanshatters-commonwealth-polevault-record) On the cover, Doug “Bubba” Sparks, Legendary Pole Vault Coach. “I learned how to use my bottom hand when I was vertical to keep me on the runway side of the pole.” Many years of knowledge and experience from Bubba as he continues his journey as a Masters, pole vaulter. Enjoy the article and the hard work that Samantha put forth this month. Well deserved! Kreager Taber writes about World Leading Marks Posted at the Texas Relays and Texas Invitational and the history of the venue. “Multiple Olympians have gathered this outdoor season to improve upon world leads, achieve new personal or season bests, and to experience the “crazy atmosphere” of the Mike A. Myers Stadium, ac-

cording to indoor world record holder Renaud Lavillenie..” It’s an article about some of our current pole vaulters around the world. Enjoy and good job Kreager! Check us out next month when we sit down and talk to World Champion Coach Scott Kendricks and analyze his knowledge of the sport. Fun times ahead, stay tuned! Doug Bouma Editor, Vaulter Magazine Vaulter Club Inc. editor@thevaultermag.com


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Vaulter Clubs Ken St. Cyr 2018

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BUBBA SPARKS:

A 52 Year Long Vaulting Journey that is Far from Over By Samantha Kaplan

Instagram: @eat_sleep_pv_repeat

Love at first sight is rare. In an instant, making the decision to commit fully and with everything to something is a decision that is only ever made in a moment of pure passion. When 12-yearold Bubba Sparks saw Bob Seagren vaulting at the Sunkist Invitational on television, he fell in love. He immediately went out to his back yard, grabbed a 1x2 board, and started jumping. While many kids may have played around for a few days at most, Bubba developed a commitment to his version of the sport. 52 years later, that dedication is stronger than ever.

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Although he’s been pole vaulting for most of his 64 years of life, Bubba continues to make breakthroughs. The first big one came when he was a sophomore in college. “I learned how to use my bottom hand when I was vertical to keep me on the runway side of the pole.” This took his inversion to a whole new level, preventing him from flagging out. “My senior year I moved my grip up from 14’3” to 15’10” in one day.” This bold move, inspired by watching Larry Jessee at Texas Relays not one day prior, may have been a bit ridiculous, but it built confidence and proved Bubba

was willing to try anything to improve his vaulting. By the end of his college career, the mats he landed on may still have been made of net bags, but he had an 18 foot PR to his name. Throughout all of his improvement, Bubba stayed humble, never forgetting that there is always more to learn. Even as a masters vaulter he is making changes to his technique. “In 2008 I made a huge discovery about hand pressure which led me to World Masters Championship wins,” says Bubba, emphasizing the importance of an open mind. Coming up on his 53rd year as a vaulter, Bubba knows there


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is always more to learn and is not planning on plateauing any time soon.

Not only is he a decorated vaulter himself, Bubba shares his experiences and philosophies with the next few generations of vaulters as a coach. He started out coaching high school and college vaulters so he could have a place to jump himself. However as time went on, he learned the value of spreading the love of the vault just like those who had spread it to him when he was beginning. “I was always a volunteer coach,” says Bubba. “My mom made me promise never to take any money away from the sport. She told me to leave it for those who left pits and weight rooms open late for me, who drove me miles and miles to meets, who came out on the weekends to host practices.” Coaching this way helped Bubba put the value of the sport into perspective, and become aware of every aspect that goes into the sport to make it what it is. One of Bubba’s most monumental coaching moments came when he was selected as a pole vault coaching technician for the 1996 Olympic Games. “I spent

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Ken St. Cyr and Bubba Sparks

five weeks on the practice and competition fields with the vaulters and decathletes during their final preparations for the Games,” recalls Bubba. Although this opportunity was prestigious on a worldwide scale, Bubba never let it go to his head. Instead, he used the experience to gain insight into a new facet of coaching and brought what he learned home to help all of his other vaulters. Through coaching vaulters of every level, from beginners picking up a pole for the first

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time, to Olympic champions, Bubba has developed a unique approach. “I’m really big on relating ‘feelings’ to the vaulters,” he explains. “I’ll explain the physics, but then I’ll also say ‘It’s going to feel like this.’” He also makes sure to include the vaulters in their own coaching decisions. “I’ll tell them what I’m thinking and the I’ll ask for their input and what they think about a couple options I have in mind.” Bubba tends to coach the Bubka/ Petrov swing style, but is not stuck to it if a vaulter naturally

leans toward a different style. “I want the best progress for my kids, and if wholly changing something will move them backwards with no guarantee of success, I’ll work with what they are doing.” Bubba often has three to four different practice agendas set up to accommodate each specific kid and their needs. Even while handling each and every vaulter individually, Bubba always makes sure they feel a part of the community. After all, pole vault is bigger than one singular vaulter,


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Bubba Sparks 2017

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and Bubba makes sure his vaulters see themselves as equally important parts of this picture, treating no one vaulter superior to another.

Bubba is known for leaving his comfort zone when it comes to approaching pole vault from a new angle, so of course he aims to instill this value in the kids he coaches. The strangest, and arguably most beneficial part of his practices comes at the end during his confidence building exercises. “My favorite is to show them how

unimportant their step is,” says Bubba. “I’ll have a kid run to right about 60 feet and pick up a pole. Then on his way to the end of the runway he will do 3 clockwise spins followed by 3 counterclockwise spins, 2 dive rolls followed by three back rolls, hop over two hurdles and then take off without a step. All the kids can do this and it empowers them to trust their depth perception and not freak out about a step.” Some other of Bubba’s drills to kick his vaulters out of their comfort zones involve taking off with a

friend lying in front of the box, jumping without a box to plant the pole in, and forgoing warm ups to take the first attempt of the day at starting height. Bubba swears by these drills. “None of these crazy exercises have ever resulted in a no height! The kids have a blast, and grow mentally strong like you wouldn’t believe.” Bubba surely adds an unconventional twist to his practices, but he also knows that technique, speed, and strength training are essential

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to good vaulting. “Too many kids are allowed to jump poorly because there is no emphasis on mechanics,” says Bubba. Vaulting from short runs and performing high and parallel bar drills complement each other nicely to develop a vaulter’s speed and strength. “As the late great Alan Launder says, ‘That which is technically desirable must be physically possible.’” There is of course always room to improve technique, but Bubba knows that a significant portion of a vaulter’s capability, after he knows how to jump, is based on how strong and fast he is; how aptly he can physically apply what he knows. Vaulting is a combination of the mental and the physical, and Bubba knows he has to train both to create truly successful vaulters.

As both a vaulter and a coach, Bubba follows the same season plan as his vaulters and understands how much they hate time off. Instead of taking long breaks between seasons, Bubba and his vaulters stay on short runs for long periods of time to avoid missing out on the fun, yet still preserve their bodies. “We will run from two total steps for two weeks and then four steps for two to four weeks,” explains Bubba. “Each month after that we move back a stride.” The lack

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of an off season helps Bubba and his vaulters stay prepared for early meets. “If you aren’t ready to PR by Reno, you’re behind for the season.” Bubba is careful to make sure he and his vaulters avoid stagnation. “I don’t want my vaulters to have any reference to their previous season marks.” Pole vaulters are always developing, so by constantly changing their marks, grips, and poles, they aren’t held back by what they used to be and their former mental images of themselves.

Even with all of his success, both as a vaulter and a mentor, Bubba stays a humble student of the sport. “I’m a limited talent guy who works his butt off because I love the sport.” This may mean he trains hard and studies technique to make himself the best vaulter he can be, but more than that, Bubba values what the future generations of vaulters are doing with everything he’s shown them. “My greatest joy is watching the look on kids’ faces and the pride they have when they stick with it and make breakthroughs.” As much as he teaches his vaulters, they continue to teach him. “I’ve had a lot of great kids and I don’t want anyone giving me credit for their success.” For Bubba, pole vault has truly become, above all else, a community

where people of all ages and abilities just aim to spread the wealth of knowledge and joy that they know the sport can bring.

A 52 year long career, that is far from over, means Bubba Sparks has lived the evolution of pole vault. He’s seen the landing surface slowly morph from sawdust to foam pits and poles advance from bamboo to carbon fiber. Accompanying the changes in equipment were changes in pole vault coaching techniques and philosophies. Many vaulters lost touch with the sport because they were not willing to change, but Bubba, fueled by reinvention, was thrilled to evolve along with the sport and spread what he’s learned to everyone who will listen. “What I love about the sport,” he explains, “is that every year you have to come out and pretend you know nothing. The more I learn about this event, the less I think I know, but the mind is much like a parachute-it works best when it’s open!”


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EVERYTHING’S

BIGGER IN TEXAS: WORLD LEADING MARKS POSTED AT THE TEXAS RELAYS AND TEXAS INVITATIONAL By: Kreager Taber

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The University of Texas’s Mike A. Myers Stadium is legendary for being home to one of the most dominant track programs in the country, as well as encouraging huge clearances and world leading marks. Multiple Olympians have gathered this outdoor season to improve upon world leads, achieve new personal or season bests, and to experience the “crazy atmosphere” of the Mike A. Myers Stadium, ac-

cording to indoor world record holder Renaud Lavillenie. This year’s Texas Relays and Texas Invitational, held in March and April respectively, brought elite pole vault competition to Austin and gave fans the experience to see world class vaults in a fun, fan-friendly environment. The Mike A. Myers stadium opened in 1999 and reflected needs for a more fan-friendly

location to watch track and field. It has since hosted the Texas Relays, first raced in 1925 as a men’s only competition and now the second largest track and field competition in the United States (second to Penn Relays), and the laterdeveloped Texas Invitational competition. In the early years of the Texas Relays, stuntmen were recruited to perform feats of strength or aerobic capacity to encourage attendDesiree Freier

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ance to the competitions, such as racing from San Antonio to Austin in nearly 15 hours in 1927. Nowadays, top elite and collegiate athletes such as Jenn Suhr, Renaud Lavillenie, Logan Cunningham, Valentin Lavillenie, and Stanley Joseph draw fans to the 20,000-person stadium. The stadium is “the best place to pole vault in America”, according to Tonja Buford-Bailey, interim head coach at the University of Texas. This view is reflected by the pole vaulters themselves, including Renaud Lavillenie, who reported that he decided to compete in his first Texas Relays after hearing the experiences of friends who trained and competed there. He said that his friends described that “everything is made for you to compete and be the best”, making him want to experience the competition and “positive feeling” firsthand. Economic studies have shown that Texas Relays alone generate approximately $8 million in revenue for local businesses, reflecting the importance of the Mike A. Myers Stadium to Austin. It also brings vaulting to those who may not experience it otherwise; for example, at the Texas Invitational, fans could watch the pole vault competition free of charge. At the Texas Relays in March, Renaud Lavillenie, Shawn Barber, and Armand Duplantis left

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the stadium sharing the world leading height of 5.92 meters. The meet was the first time that three men have vaulted 5.92 meters or higher in the same competition since 1999, and the competition was Lavillenie’s season opening meet. In the men’s collegiate competition, Chris Nilsen of South Dakota and Devin King of Louisiana shared the winning height of 5.80 meters, with King winning on attempts. On the women’s elite side of the competition, Jenn Suhr dominated with a clearance of 4.83 meters on a second attempt jump. She entered at 4.60 meters, the last height cleared by Lisa Gunnarsson of Virginia Tech, and jumped without competition until her three misses at 5.01 meters. For the collegiate women, Andrea Willis of Kansas, Shay Petty of Texas, and Jenna Frantz of Akron shared the winning height of 4.25 meters, with Willis winning on attempts.

Pole vault fans at the Texas Invitational, held at Mike A. Myers Stadium in April, were lucky enough to watch world famous pole vaulters clear two world leading marks. The field was stacked with five Olympians in the pole vault alone, including French athletes Renaud Lavillenie, Stanley Joseph, and Valentin Lavillenie, as well as Team USA member Logan Cunningham on the men’s side.

In the women’s competition, Olympian Jenn Suhr competed with collegiate jumpers from Stephen F. Austin University and University of Texas. Renaud Lavillenie improved upon


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Jake Blankenship

his world lead with a jump of 5.95 meters, bettering his mark of 5.92 meters from March which he shared with Shawn Barber and high school athlete Armand Duplantis. Jenn Suhr

also improved upon her own world lead, jumping 4.93 meters to improve upon her previous mark of 4.83 meters. Suhr’s 4.93-meter leap is her first outdoor personal best in ten years.

Suhr blew away her competition, coming in at a height of 4.61 with the rest of the women failing to clear 4.16 meters. Kaylee Bizzell of Stephen F. Austin University, Shay Petty

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nie entered the completion at 5.60, then passed at 5.70 meters, 5.80 meters, and 5.90 meters after clearing his opening height, 5.75 meters, and 5.85 meters. Stanley Joseph took second place with a jump of 5.35 meters, while unattached athlete Jeffrey Rodriguez and Barrett Poth of the University of Texas jumped their opening heights of 5.20 meters.

Shawn Barber

of the University of Texas, and unattached Alexandra Pevtosova cleared 4.01 meters but missed at 4.16, while Dakota Mayr of Stephen F. Austin and Kally Long of the University of Texas cleared their opening height of 3.86 meters. Suhr also reset her own sta-

dium record of 4.83 meters, set at the Texas Relays. Suhr has had a strong beginning to her outdoor season, clearing 4.82 meters at the Fort Worth TCU Invitational and 4.83 meters at the Texas Relays. Similarly, on the men’s side of the competition, Renaud Laville-

The Texas Relays and Texas Invitational, held at the iconic Mike A. Myers Stadium of the University of Texas, continuously bring track and field excellence to Austin. The appearance of 5 Olympians at this year’s invitational, as well as the world leading marks, Suhr’s longtime coming outdoor personal best jump, and the high level of competition that the meet brought sets the bar high for next year’s meets, and bring the sport of pole vaulting to the surrounding community at little to no cost.

References Holton, Avery. “Texas Relays: History in the making”. The Daily Texan.

University of Texas Track and Field/Cross Country. “Pole Vault competitions to feature 5 Olympians at Texas Invitational”. Published 4/12/2018.

University of Texas Track and Field/Cross Country. “2018 Texas Relays conclude with 11 meet records”. Published 3/31/2018.

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Profile for VAULTER Magazine

May 2018 Bubba Sparks Issue of Vaulter Magazine  

May 2018 Bubba Sparks Issue of Vaulter Magazine

May 2018 Bubba Sparks Issue of Vaulter Magazine  

May 2018 Bubba Sparks Issue of Vaulter Magazine

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