Track and Field

Alysha Newman eager to test jumping shape in virtual pole vault event

After watching three of the world's top male pole vaulters test their athleticism in a virtual backyard competition on Sunday, Canadian-record holder Alysha Newman wants to be part of a remote women's event she believes will be held in the coming weeks.

Canadian Olympian says backyard clash tests athleticism, introduces cardio to sport

With no pole vault competitions scheduled in the near future due to the coronavirus, Canada's Alysha Newman would like to test if she's in jumping shape by being part of a women's remote backyard event similar to the men's competition held on the weekend. (Michael Steele/Getty Images/File)

It was the most excited Alysha Newman's mother had seen her daughter watching pole vault in recent memory.

On a sun-drenched Sunday morning, the Olympic pole vaulter was tanning on the deck at her parents' home in London, Ont., and peering at a laptop as three male counterparts staged a virtual competition from their respective backyards.

Renaud Lavillenie, the 2016 Olympic silver medallist from France, and current world-record holder Mondo Duplantis shared the gold medal as they cleared five metres 36 times in 30 minutes — two 15-minute sessions and a short halftime — in a rare sporting event during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I kept standing up and sitting down and my mom was laughing at me. It felt like I was watching the Olympics in 2012 watching [Canada's] Mélanie Blouin jump," Newman said over the phone. "At the time, I knew I wanted to be at the Olympics. I remember sitting on the floor [cheering her]. I was so excited; there was so much adrenalin and it motivated me."

WATCH | 3 of the world's top male pole vaulters compete remotely:

Duplantis, Lavillenie share gold medal in Ultimate Garden Clash 

2 years ago
Duration 5:11
Pole vault stars Renaud Lavillenie, Mondo Duplantis and Sam Kendricks hold a competition in their own backyards.

Newman, 25, wants to be part of a virtual women's event she believes will happen in the coming weeks. During Sunday's event that was live streamed on CBC Sports, she was part of a social media chat with several of her competitors, including reigning Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi, Anzhelika Sidorova, Angelica Bengtsson and Holly Bradshaw.


UPDATE: Newman will compete against Stefanidi and two-time US indoor champion Katie Nageotte in a second competititon on Saturday May 16, beginning at noon ET. Watch the free live stream on CBCSports.ca. 


"It was pretty cool to see a different side of pole vault and it really motivated us to do it," Newman said of the men's backyard competition, billed as the Ultimate Garden Clash, which also featured two-time world champion Sam Kendricks of the United States. "I want to push the limits and see if I'm in jumping shape or not."

Unique format

The women's indoor/outdoor Canadian record holder has jumped five days a week during the pandemic at a warehouse in Bolton, Ont., she rented with coach Doug Wood after her training facility, Bolton Pole Vault, was closed to the public. More recently, she has enjoyed going back to the basics and relearning the sport to be that much more advanced when competition resumes.

Lavillenie proposed the backyard idea and collaborated with Duplantis and Kendricks on the unique format since adjusting the bar wasn't practical without officials on site.

In a perfect world, said Newman, she would set up a Zoom call with five other pole vaulters and set the bar at four metres. It would be an actual pole vault competition, with each athlete given three attempts to clear the bar, which would be raised until there was a winner.

If the format for a potential women's event was identical to the men, Newman said setting the bar between 4 metres and 4.20 metres would be ideal as a shorter approach on the runway for a lower height would mean more jump attempts.

Newman, who cleared 4.80 outdoors to finish fifth at the world championships last September in Qatar, noted Sunday's event tested the athleticism of the 33-year-old Lavillenie, 20-year-old Duplantis and Kendricks, 27.

New opportunities for track and field athletes?

At a typical practice, Newman jumps 35-40 times — over two hours.

I think [it] is going to open a lot of doors for track and field athletes, especially the field event athletes.— Canada's Alysha Newman on Sunday's virtual men's pole vault competition

"These guys were hitting 36 jumps in 30 minutes, which is incredible and so hard," said Newman, adding she might simulate a 15-minute competition at an upcoming practice. "Pole vault, from the first step, if you're not into it or you feel relaxed and calm, it is so easy to mess up.

"It was the first time we've seen cardio introduced to pole vault and it showed how hard it was on them. You could hear them huffing and puffing. Pole vaulting has always been about who can jump the highest for two to three hours with wind conditions and [other elements]. It ends up being mental and not physical, whereas [Sunday] was physical. It was cool to see [pole vaulters] could do both."

Newman, the 2016 Olympian who has qualified for the rescheduled Summer Games in Tokyo next July, would like a women's event to be sponsored for the athletes to make money and a television network to broadcast live from a remote location.

"We're constantly overshadowed by these high-paying sports," she said. "We're incredibly amazing, too, and want to show that to the world and keep people entertained.

"I think [Sunday's event] is going to open a lot of doors for track and field athletes, especially the field event athletes."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

With files from The Associated Press

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