Physicist says women could vault to new Olympic records

Just as women's pole vaulting makes its debut at the upcoming Olympic 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, a physicist from the University of Texas says women are poised to make even bigger leaps in the record books. Cliff Frohlich, who has written articles on sports physics in the American Journal of Physics and the book The Physics of Sports, points out that while the men's pole vaulting record has stood for more than 6 years, we've yet to see the heights to which women will vault.

By using a vaulter's sprint speed to determine the potential vertical height, Frohlich says he expects the women's record to top 17.5 feet soon. That's more than two feet higher than where the current record sits.

The women's current world record holder, Stacy Dragila, an assistant track and field coach at Idaho State University, just set her latest record of 4.63 meters, or 15 feet 2.25 inches in July at the Olympic trials in Sacramento, California. The world record in men's pole vaulting is held by the Ukraine's Sergey Bubka, who cleared 6.14 meters or 20 feet 1.75 inches in a 1994 competition.

Dragila's coach, Dave Nielsen, agrees with Frohlich that women probably have room for significant gains, but he isn't sure about the 17.5 foot figure. Still, he thinks 16.5 feet is a good bet, and he says women will eventually break the 17 foot mark. "Women have different challenges than men in pole-vaulting, such as different upper body strength and a lower average height," Nielsen says. Nevertheless, he adds, "I don't doubt that women will eventually jump over 17 feet."

With current women's records at just over 15 feet, Frohlich says that "the women's record is likely to improve quite a bit" as women who can run faster and use the pole more effectively enter the field. The reason this is possible is that vaulting is an example of conservation of energy: The kinetic energy, or energy of motion, of the runner's approach speed is converted, through the pole vault, into th

Contact: Rory McGee
American Institute of Physics

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