As a general rule, gymnasts tend to enjoy flipping and flying around in midair.
For that reason, it’s not much of a surprise gymnasts and former gymnasts make up a big chunk of the pole vaulters on high school girls track teams. That’s definitely the case at Columbus North and Columbus East.
“Most of the pole vaulters we’ve had since I’ve been coaching the last seven years have been gymnasts,” East girls track coach Glen Brown said. “They seem to have that upper-body strength, and they don’t have that fear of going upside down to get over a bar.”
The Olympians’ pole vault history includes Nikki (Howe) Devers, who was the state gymnastics all-around champion in 2001. She owned the school record in the pole vault until Emily Sciutto broke it with a leap of 9 feet, 6 inches.
“Nikki was jumping when the sport just came in for girls,” Brown said. “(Nine feet) was a pretty phenomenal jump at that point in time, but because of her gymnastics background, she was able to do a lot more than some other girls were. She had the upper-body strength.”
That upper-body strength, along with the ability to adapt in midair, is a big key to pole vaulting, said North coach Lou Sipe.
“One of the biggest things is spatial awareness because once they get up in the air, I think a gymnast is trained to kind of know where they’re at,” Sipe said. “So being able to turn and get over the bar is an easier transition for them maybe than somebody that’s not as familiar with gymnastics. Strength that they develop with gymnastics obviously helps to get them off the ground to use that core strength to keep their body in good position to get them over that bar.”
Chelsea Wieland, who was one of North’s top gymnasts while in high school, was a state qualifier in the pole vault the past two years and now pole vaults at University of Indianapolis. Another Bull Dogs gymnast, sophomore Katrina May, was a regional qualifier in the pole vault this past season and hopes to make it to state this year.
“It very fun to be able to be pretty good at something else other than gymnastics because that’s all I’ve ever done before,” May said. “Pole vaulting is very different. I love it. It’s an activity to do outside of gymnastics.”
May and junior Kaitlyn Barnes, who helped lead North to a third-place state gymnastics finish this year, started pole vaulting last year. Now, they’re the school’s top two vaulters.
“A lot of the skills that I do on bars (in gymnastics) are exactly what you have to do for pole vault,” Barnes said.
“They’re very similar,” May said. “(Pole vault is) a lot like the vault and bars mixed together. The run obviously is a lot like the vault runway, and then the swing up is a lot like Giants (a full rotation) on bars. It takes a lot of upper-body strength, and gymnasts have that, so that’s the advantage we have over everyone else.”
After pole vaulting 10-0 last year, May has gone 11-0 to tie the school’s sophomore record. Barnes has improved from 7-6 last year to 9-0 this season.
“Two weeks ago, everything clicked, so I was able to start going higher,” Barnes said. “I learned the technique and the form a lot better.”
Junior Emily Clancy, a former gymnast, is the No. 1 pole vaulter at East. She has cleared 8-6 each of the past two years.
“I came out freshman year, and it looked fun, so I went over,” Clancy said. “Definitely, upper arm strength helps out a lot, and the form helps carry over.”
Clancy who finished third in the state on the vault in gymnastics as a sophomore, gave up that sport this year because of a back injury.
“I had fractured my spine,” Clancy said. “I was coming back, and it hurt a lot. I did a back tuck and ended up spraining my back. It just isn’t worth it for gymnastics (to be injured) for the rest of my life.”
The girls track postseason begins with sectional action today at Franklin, and the goal for Clancy and Barnes is to qualify for the regional with a top-four finish.
“Regional would be nice,” Clancy said. “My goal for this year or next year would be to break the school record.”
May has a higher goal.
“I’m hoping to be able to win the sectional and then hopefully place second or third at regional to be able to go to state,” May said.
May is hoping to pole vault in college. Barnes and Clancy say that is a possibility for them, as well.
“If I can go 12 or 13 feet, I think I’ll be able to get a scholarship, so that would be great,” May said.