Pole Vaulting History

A vaulter taking off with a pole.

Pole vaulting is a common competition in today's Olympic games. Men and women compete for height and distance during this event. Using a pole made of flexible materials, the vaulter uses his own weight to launch over a heightened bar. If the vaulter upends the bar, then he is disqualified, leaving only the vaulters who have cleared the bar to be judged.

Ancient Origins

Pole vaulting's earliest records point to ancient Ireland in 1829 B.C. although according to American Track and Field, ancient Egyptian carvings depict possible pole vaulters as early as 2500 B.C. Before becoming a competitive sport, pole vaulting was a military tactic used to scale high castle walls during siege attempts. Warriors found this easier than attempting to place a ladder against the castle walls only to have it pushed forward causing injury and death. It is also believed that early farmers used pole vaulting as a means to cross crude irrigation ditches when working on various complex canals for crop growth.


Greek athletes participated in pole vaulting competitions outside of the ancient Olympic games. Vases and paintings dated circa 500 B.C. depict athletes using makeshift poles to hurdle over barriers to gain favor with the crowds, according to Track and Field Events' website. It is believed that the makeshift poles used by the ancient Greeks were in fact spears used in practice for battle, but eventually led to competitive sport.

Olympic Games

It wasn't until 1896 that pole vaulting entered into Olympic competition as a popular track and field event. Pole vaulting was a male-dominated event for more than a century with vaulting poles made of wood like bamboo. According to Track and Field Events, in the 1950s fiberglass poles were introduced allowing for more flexibility and strength from the stronger material. In 2000, women were allowed to compete in the pole vault during the Olympic Games, although women had long competed in other pole vaulting competitions.

Highest Pole Vault

Although early records are contained within ancient artifacts, pole vaulting has been closely recorded since its introduction into the modern Olympic games. In 1994, the record height of 6.14 meters was reached by Sergey Bubka, who also holds the record as the first person to pole vault more than 6 meters in 1985. To date, no one has beat Bubka's record-breaking vault; however, with ongoing technological advances in sports, aspiring athletes will continue to try.