Track / Mal Florence : Pursley’s Mishap Points Out How Dangerous Pole Vaulting Is

The event is risky, and pole vaulters are the daredevils of track and field, but there are very few serious accidents reported.

When there is one, though, as there was in the ARC0-Coliseum meet Saturday, people become aware of just how dangerous vaulting can be.

Brad Pursley lost control of his pole while attempting a vault of 19 feet, 0 inch. He pitched forward, his head apparently hitting the edge of the pit, his body slamming into the concrete surface that encases the vaulting box.


Pursley was unconscious for two minutes, and it was feared that he had suffered a serious injury.

The former Abilene Christian vaulter did suffer a concussion, but X-rays taken at Orthopaedic Hospital revealed no spinal or neck injuries, and he was released after a short stay.

Mike Tully, who was in the vaulting competition and an eyewitness, said that Pursley got into a situation familiar to all vaulters.

“Earl Bell (another vaulter) and I came to the conclusion that it was a pilot error,” Tully said. “He has been in that position before and gotten out of it. I’ve been in that position many, many times.

“He didn’t put his legs up toward the bar because he was going to abort the jump. As the pole uncoiled, his head was closer to the bar than his feet. He relaxed for a fraction of a second, thinking he was OK. The pole tip came out of the box and was pointing toward the runway. He had no support with the pole. It was like letting go of the pole. There was nothing to hold him up in the air.

“Basically, he started rotating forward. As he hit the box, it was like Greg Louganis jumping off the 3-meter board. He hit the box, and the concrete around it. He was barely onto the pit, and I guess that’s where he hit his head. What I heard was a big slap and I thought his forehead had hit the cement around the vaulting box.

“There was no blood, though. I thought his neck was broken. But he came around, started talking and moved his hands and feet.”

Still, it was almost half an hour before competition was resumed, and Tully had no desire to continue vaulting, passing his last two jumps.

Tully said that a vaulter has four minutes to make his attempt if two or three athletes are left in the competition.

“Brad was down to his last 10 seconds,” Tully said. “That’s included in the whole thing, too. You’re pressured with time and have to get going. He just relaxed for a second and he shouldn’t have. The same thing has happened to me, but I keep pressure down on the pole and make sure that it doesn’t come out of the box. There was nothing to hold him up. The tip of the pole came out of the box. It comes down to pilot error.”

Carl Lewis was at the Coliseum Saturday, but track’s superstar was there only to conduct a clinic for youngsters after the meet.

He injured his right leg while long jumping at the Pepsi Invitational May 18, and the injury will limit his activities this weekend in the USA-Mobil outdoor championship meet at Indianapolis.

“I’m not sure whether I’ll go in both sprints, or just the 100 or 200,” he said. “I definitely won’t be long jumping. What I have is a muscle strain behind my right knee.”

It’s believed that Lewis will concentrate on the 200. He recorded his best time, 19.75 seconds, a sea-level record, at the Indiana University Stadium in 1983.

Valerie Brisco-Hooks, Jackie Joyner, Greg Foster, Alice Brown, Florence Griffith and Jeanette Bolden will not compete in the national championship meet.

They are members of Bob Kersee’s World Class Club. Kersee is also the UCLA women’s track coach.

Kersee said that the athletes have leg injuries of varying degrees and he doesn’t want them to risk further injury that would jeopardize their participation in summer meets in Europe.

The European summer circuit is financially rewarding for track athletes.

Kersee said that Foster, the Olympic silver medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, has been bothered by a leg injury and had to stop training for a while.

“Greg is healthy now, but he’s just getting back to racing form,” Kersee said. “He’ll probably be ready to go full bore by the Foot Locker meet in Berkeley (June 22-23).”

Brisco-Hooks, Joyner and Brown all warmed up to compete in the 400, 100-meter hurdles and 100, respectively, in Saturday’s Coliseum meet.

But they called it a day, reportedly because of tightness or soreness in their leg muscles. Their absence from the meet, along with the earlier withdrawals by Lewis, Edwin Moses and Joaquim Cruz, left some holes in the fields.

“I’m very disappointed that I didn’t hear from Bob Kersee about the injuries,” said H.D. Thoreau, the Coliseum meet director. “I’m also disappointed that the crowd didn’t get an opportunity to see these outstanding athletes in competition.”

The versatile Joyner is the NCAA heptathlete champion and the collegiate record-holder in the long jump. Brisco-Hooks was a triple gold medalist in the Summer Olympics, winning the 200 and 400 meters and running a leg on the winning 1,600 relay team. Brown was a silver medalist in the 100.

When informed of Thoreau’s feelings, Kersee said: “All three were there and ready to run, but their bodies just couldn’t go. If they get injured, no one will be worrying about them two or three years down the road.”

Injuries are one thing, but meet directors such as Thoreau, Al Franken, Will Kern and Tom Jordan say there is a disturbing trend in the sport. Club athletes often make commitments to compete through their coaches and then don’t show up on the day of a competition without any explanation for their absences.

Although several world-class athletes didn’t compete Saturday for various reasons, performances were still at a high standard, notably Willie Banks’ American record of 57-11 3/4 in the triple jump.

“The meet was an artistic success but we were disappointed that the crowd wasn’t larger,” Thoreau said.

There were about 10,500 in attendance, but the turnstile count was only 6,374.

ARCO has an option to sponsor the Coliseum meet again next year, but Thoreau doesn’t know whether the company will exercise it.