Sunday, September 04, 2016

Brits Pub Vault: Canada's Alysha Newman Won the Women's, US's Mark Hollis the Men's Title

Canadian Olympian Alysha Newman won the women's Brits Pub Vault title and Mark Hollis the men's.  Both took home a $1500 check for the top man and woman finishers.  Newman, who holds all of the Canadian junior records, came close to setting a new Canadian Women's Pole Vault record on her final jump of the night, a close attempt at clearing 15'3".

Hollis took three unsuccessful tries at 19'.25," but his season is not over. He's off to Europe for several more competitions, a mix of "street" and stadium events.  Hollis said that while he didn't clear the 19 foot plus jump it was good practice for taking another shot at clearing 19+.

Disappointed at not making the US team in the vault for the Rio Olympics(He finished fourth in the trials losing out on the final spot on misses as he and Logan Cunningham vaulted the same height.) Hollis wants to finish the year on a high note.

"I was really nervous," Mark said of the Olympic Trials.  Things were not in sync.  Instead of getting in that "zone" where you don't think, you just vault, Hollis was outside his "comfort zone."  Nothing seemed effortless.  Instead he tried to force things.

"Going in I knew I should have been on the team  I knew I was fit and ready to go."  After finishing fifth in the 2012 trials. Having had a breakthrough year in 2014 where he rose as high as second in the World rankings.  Hollis had high hopes for 2016.

Instead he's had to regroup, leave the past in the past, and concentrate on what he does best.  Unlike many athletes, he understands that there is more to the "job," than merely getting over the bar.  When he was going for 19 feet at Brits, he rocked to the music broadcast over the loudspeaker, put his hand up behind his ear, urging the crowd clap, to get into the event.

Mark Hollis. photo courtesy of USATF
"We're entertainers," he says about his theatrics.  "The show goes on and you want to do something they will remember so they will come back next year."  And lest you think it's all show, all you have to do is watch the routine Hollis and the other vaulters go through.  Prior to each jump, Mark goes through the meticulous process of getting the right pole, putting on the tape, sticky sprays, and talcum on his hands and the grip end of the pole.

"Most vaulters are OCD"  about their equipment, he said, and they have their routines.  As he was standing on the far end of the runway Hollis would hold his pole in his right hand like it was a long walking stick and he'd walk, bounce, down the runway.  Turn around and walk back.  Put the pole down and go back and put down a marker on the side of the runway so he had intermediate check points that tell him if he has the right step pattern and speed to get him in the right position for the all important pole plant in the "box," Controlling the speed and the plant allows the vaulter to  drive the energy of the run into the pole.  As he plants, his arms are extended.  His hands grip near the top end of the pole and jam the tip into the box.  The feet and legs drive the body forward generating the power that  bends the pole and launches him airbourne.  On a good vault you are on autopilot.

Your feet leave the ground and your hips rock the legs and feet in an upward arc.  You become a gymnast, twisting, adjusting the flight of the body over the bar.  In milliseconds the body tells the brain that it's going well, no need to adjust or quickly calls for corrections if something is out of sync.

Newman knows the instinctual body control necessary to successfully clear the bar and drop down into the pit.  She started her athletic career in grade school as a gymnast until her body "grew up." She was no longer the tiny athlete with the low center of gravity that made spinning, bouncing, doing handstands and tumbling less taxing on the body.  The wear and tear on her body resulted in disk issues in her back that cost her a year on the sidelines.  By that time her English teacher saw her running and told her mother that she should come out for track.

She started as a hurdler until her coach told her she should try the pole vault.  It wasn't love at first site, but there was success from the beginning.  Instead of the back issues, now healed, from gymnastics, Alysha only had to deal with sore feet, or hips, or other mild aches and pains, but she began clearing record heights from the beginning, a "natural" of sorts, and that progression hasn't stopped.

This year Newman made the team for Canada and finished 17th in her first Olympics.  "I want to go a total of five Olympics," she says.  Now that she has graduated from the University of Miami where she finished runner up at NCAAs, she'll be getting a new coach and wants to get into stiffer competition.  Diamond League meets, the pathways to a second Olympic Games.

Hollis has equally lofty objectives.  He's not intimidated by the progression in the event that has seen the 20 foot vault as a challenge, not a miracle.  Hollis approaches each competition hoping to go higher, improving on his best.  Like Newman he feels the same aches and pains.  He had the masseur available to the athletes  at Brits rub some heat generating jell on his lower back prior to the competition.  During warm ups he'd felt some twinges and with the temperature getting colder as the sun went down, he didn't want his back to stiffen up on him.

The other adjustment that Hollis and the other vaulters faced was vaulting "under the lights."  He hadn't done night vaulting before and said that going in and out of darkness and bright light took some adaptations.  The lights focused on the box and the front of the pole vault pit were adjusted during the competition as others raised concerns over the light placement.  Clearing a height successfully was challenging enough without throwing in another obstacle.

While vaulting in these conditions might provide a unique backdrop for the spectators, it is a concern for the athletes.  Vaulters are adaptable creatures, however, and they rose to the challenge.

Brits Pub Vault Results HERE

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