Track and Field
For the pole vault, athletes rely on two factors to propel them as high as possible over a horizontal bar – a solid run-up and a flexible pole. Each competitor has only three attempts to achieve their best height, but pole manufacturers have created a number of options to help athletes reach those heights.
Pole vaulters use either a GFRP or CFRP pole. According to manufacturer UST Essx, based in Fort Worth, Texas, vaulters want poles that are light to carry, feature a uniform bend, leave minimal body shock and provide the greatest percent of return. UST Essx says that carbon fibers add stiffness, and by using more than 100 different types of fibers in its tubular designs it can precisely fine-tune the properties of its poles for incredible lightness balanced with a small handgrip. The manufacturer notes that by minimizing the amount of reinforcing S-glass, it is able to create stronger, lighter poles than have been possible in the past.
But Steve Chappell, general manager of pole manufacturer UCS in Carson City, Nev., points out, “The border [between weight and strength] is very difficult to cross because if you make a pole that’s lighter then it’s going to be more fragile, so it’s going to be more prone to damage and breakage.”
UCS relies on its resin system to increase durability in its prepreg epoxy unidirectional fiberglass poles. “What makes fiberglass the most effective material is that it has the highest elasticity,” Chappell says. “The resin system that we use allows it to be durable. This is a very big issue, because everyone knows that glass can be broken, and if the product suffers a severe impact, it can fail. But under normal use, we find that fiberglass is very durable.”
Strength and durability, combined with lightness and flexibility, are critical for most Olympic sporting equipment. And this high-tech equipment shares one characteristic with the athletes who put these tools to use: It’s a sure bet that the next Olympic cycle will feature a new batch of composite equipment that will help the next-generation of athletes demonstrate even more impressive physical feats.