Gliding with apparent ease over the high bar, Geelong Guild Harriers athlete, Max Kroger, annexed another Australian Record. In clearing 11 feet 7 1/2 inches he broke the 13 year old pole vault record by 1 inch. The year was 1927 and Max broke the previous record held by R Templeton of the USA when he competed in Sydney. An allround athlete, Max also excelled in the decathlon at interstate level.

Move forward almost one hundred years to 2024 and we find Armand Duplantis (Swedish) holds the world record for the Pole Vault at 6.24 metres of 20 feet 5.5 inches. No doubt Duplantis will be amongst the medals at the Olympic Games in Paris in August.

Major advancements in pole vaulting have occurred since Max picked up his hickory pole. In fact, pole vault is probably the athletic sport that has benefitted the most from new technology. Before we compare the two eras in the sport, let’s go back to the time when Max was just a young athlete.

Max Wiley Kroger, son of ex police Superintendent HW Kroger, was born at Tylden near Kyneton. The family moved to Geelong when Max was young. It was at Geelong High School that Max’s sporting potential began to appear. In school sports he won the high jump and 440 yards events. 

After his studies, Max concentrated on football. Like many young boys his aim was to play for a league club. He was selected to play for the Geelong Football Club in the Victoria Football League competition. Max played as an amateur during his football career. During his time which Geelong, he played mainly in the ruck and half back positions. Max’s ability must have been outstanding to warrant selection for the Victorian League team. 

Tennis was another sport in which he excelled. Winning the local Hitchcock Cup, while playing for the Belmont Tennis Club, Max displayed his physical versatility. It was this versatility that brought Max immeasurable success in the athletic world. Athol Wilson introduced Max to the Geelong Guild Harriers in 1923. Almost immediately Max entered the Pennant competition (a competition between the Geelong and Melbourne athletic clubs.) Hurdles sprints, high jump, long jump and many other events including the pole vault, were his sights. Max mastered each and ranked with the Victoria’s best in most events. 

Max was truly an allrounder and proved to be a tower of strength for the Geelong Guild Harriers. However, his great athletic prowess, dedication and allround ability were exceeded only by his modesty. Success was not immediate for this high flyer. In the 1926 Victorian Track and Field Championships Max was placed equal third in the pole vault with nine feet, equal third in the high jump with five feet 6 1/2 inches and 3rd in the decathlon with 4864 points. During the following year, Max would easily eclipse all these performances.

Injuries stopped him from entering the many events in 1926, but competing in the Victorian decathlon championships a few weeks later max won with a record score of 5678 points. Spurred on with this success, Max trained through the winter and competed with the Victorian Athletic Team in the Australasian Track and Field Championships, conducted  in Brisbane. Max won the decathlon with a record score of 6306 points. Although still a novice in the pole vault, he gained second place in the Australian titles. 

Creating a new Victorian Decathlon Record in 1927, Max won the Victorian title with 6125 points. In that same year he also set pole vaulting records. In an unprecedented effort he cleared 11 feet 5 inches, eclipsing the old record at the Geelong Motor Drome/Kardinia Park Oval.

Competing at the Geelong Athletic Championships on April 9th 1927, Max began his attempt to conquer the Victoria’s Pole Vault Record. He began at 10 feet then progressed to 10 feet six and again at 11 feet three and three quarter inches. With an assisting tilt the bar was brought down. At another attempt Max sailed over with ease inches between himself and the bar. A re-measure showed that the actual height to be 11 feet 5 inches. 

Eight thousand people saw the new record. The Geelong Advertiser on April 11th 1927 recorded: 

“Kroger’s feat places his famed name and still bolder outline on Australia’s scroll of athletic fame and the next best pole vaulting effort by an Australian or New Zealander performer, under the jurisdiction of the Australasian Athletic Union.”

Another brilliant display of voting took place on November 19th 1927, when Max broke the Australian pole vault record with a leap of 11 feet 7 1/2 inches. The venue was the Amateur Sports Ground, also known as the Melbourne Motor Drome.

Melbourne’s newspaper, the Sporting Globe on November 25th 1927 wrote of Max:  

“The Geelong Guild mainstay is an extraordinary athlete. He asked that no announcement be made regarding his change at the record and the crowd were informed of his attempt immediately Kroger cleared the jump he ran for the dressing room but the crowd cheered and cheered him again.”

Pole vaulters in the early days did not have the assurances of their equipment that modern competitors have today. A solid, taped and pointed Hickory pole, or if one was lucky, a bamboo pole, had to stand the strain of the competitor.

Max used a Hickory pole weighing 14lb (6.3kg) when he began pole vaulting. The Victorian record of 11 feet 5 inches was set with a hardwood pole. Later, Max had use of a bamboo pole imported from the United States. Artificial poles of fiberglass and carbonfibre are in use today and give much more confidence and propulsion for competitors. 

Sand was the landing pit in the old days. A sharpened point thrust hard into a sack of wheat or sand was the initial step of the vault, however, today’s competitors slide their pole into a well designed metal stop box. 

Selection for the Australian Track and Field Championships in Wellington New Zealand was automatic for Max, but he could not attend because of professional work duties. 

Geelong’s Mayor in 1927, Councillor Solomon, the Honourable Howard Hitchcock M.L.C. and Mr. W Brownbill, extended their congratulations to Max on winning the Welch Cup. The Welch Cup was presented to the highest individual scorer in the Melbourne Athletics Pennant competition where Geelong Guild Harriers competed. 

Max attributed his success to Mr. Ern Davie, Head Trainer of the Geelong Football Club and Mr. Bervan Ellis Purnell, Secretary of Geelong Guild Harriers. 

In 1928 Max said, at the reception held in his honour:

“I am at about the end of my tether as far as active athletics are concerned, but I intend to do all I can to foster the sport in Geelong and to help the boys who take up athletics as their past time.”

After retiring from athletics, Max played the occasional round of golf, excelling in that sport too. 

Once in a lifetime does a remarkable champion come to the fore. Once in an era an outstanding performer appear. In the 1920s Max Kroger was that champion. 

“I’ve got a rare champion. He’ll take everything”, said Athol Wilson the post war founder of the modern Geelong Guild Harriers in 1923. His prediction was right.

When we examine the two periods of pole vaulting, the influence of technology is starkly obvious. I wonder how high Max would have vaulted today and how high Armand Duplantis could vault with the conditions Max experienced.

Then and Now

The poleHickory or bambooFibreglass or carbon fibre (must match the vaulter’s weight and skill level) Poles are manufactured in various lengths between 3.05 metres or 10 feet and 5.30 metres or 17 ft 4.5) and they have different flex ratings. 
Vault boxA sack of wheat (or sand) in a box before the barThe vault box or stop box is embedded in the runway. Stainless steel is commonly preferred because of its strength and corrosion resistance. Standard vault boxes have a length of about 105 cm and a width that tapers from 60 cm at the back to 15 cm at the front. The depth typically ranges from 20 cm to 25 cm The box is installed at an angle, generally between 105 and 110 degrees.
Landing areaSand or woodchipsThe minimum recommended size for a landing area is 5 meters by 5 meters, with a preferred size of 6 meters by 6 metres. Landing mats are typically made from high-density foam covered in weather-resistant material to protect the foam from the elements and ensure it retains its cushioning properties.
RunupShort cut Grass or compacted cindersThe synthetic surface runup is 40 metres long. Usually the compound is rubber particles with latex or polyurethane.
Helmets NoneSome competitors may choose to wear helmets of lightweight impact resistant material
Perimeter Padding NoneFor the vault box and surrounding areas
ShoesLeather with steel spikes fixed into the soleShoes are form-fitting and aerodynamic to allow for maximum mobility and designed for ultimate traction. Specific structural enhancements, such as reinforced toes and secure fastenings, aid in stability and power transfer. 
ClothesA cotton singlet and cotton shortsFabrics are designed to be breathable and moisture-wicking, ensuring athletes remain comfortable and dry. This helps the vaulter to maintain grip and focus during vaults.
GripsNon specificDiscussing various grip styles are available, including the Russian grip, American grip, and mixed grip. Nonslip powder or gel is applied to the hands.
CoachingCoaching by eyeVideo analysis software has become an invaluable tool. By recording and analyzing vaulting technique, areas for improvement and refinement can improve performance.
Modern pole vault equipment must meet specific safety standards set by athletic organizations like the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Source“Soar to New Heights: Your Guide to Pole Vault Equipment Essentials” April 25, 2024

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