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pole vault


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An established event in athletic programmes, in which the vaulter uses a pole to lever his or her body over a horizontal bar that is raised until a single competitor has cleared the greatest height. Precursors of the modern form are said to be forms of vaulting in marshy terrain, but as a formalized athletic activity the pole vault was not established until the 19th century, in forms of German gymnastics and in athletic competition in the USA. It has been a staple of the Olympic programme (for men) since the first modern Games in Athens in 1896, and US men won every Olympic competition from then until 1968, recognized as the longest winning streak by a nation in Olympic history. A German Democratic Republic athlete ended this streak at the Munich Games in 1972, amid controversy and farce concerning the rules whereby particular types of pole could be used. Women's pole vaulting entered the Olympics only in Sydney in 2000, showing the remarkable longevity of the persistence of the prejudices that restricted women's participation in the full range of sporting competition. The inaugural women's champion, Stacy Dragila of the USA, had posed naked for a calendar before the event; the silver medallist, Russian-born Australian Tatiana Grigorieva, had modelled for a magazine. The contradictions of breakthroughs in women's sport were captured in Dragila's comment that athletics organizers now wanted women vaulters: ‘Back when I started…[they] thought we were boring. Now that there's hot chicks out there clearing fifteen feet, they want us.’

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