It’s been a historic season for RS Junior Pole Vaulter Kristen Denk. She has set two school records, finished third at Indoor SEC, won Outdoor SEC, and was an Indoor All American. This Thursday, Denk will compete against the best in the country to win her, and Vanderbilt’s, first PV National Title.
Denk has the ninth best vault in the nation this year at 14’ 3.5”. That is just under two inches less than the numbers seven and eight vaulters. There are five vaulters at 14’ 8”-14’ 9.5”, which is essentially one bar higher than Denk has cleared thus far (depending on the progression standards, PV tends to go up by about six inches each bar).
At the top of the performance list is Olivia Gruver with a height of 15’ 6.25”. Yup, that’s really, really good, like best ever in college. She set the mark at the Stanford Invitational in March.
Which brings me to this point. Denk has cleared her season best more recently than any vaulter above her. She won the SEC Outdoor PV on May 9. A solid month (or two) before any other vaulter ranked above her beside Helen Falda of South Dakota who cleared 14’ 4” just one week prior to Denk’s season best.
This is important because in PV recency matters. It’s indicative of how an athlete is training and peaking. It’s not a straight line the way running training is, but it speaks to the mindset and ability of the athlete.
This year, Denk broke an indoor school record, then went on to finish third at the SEC Indoor, and earn All-America honors at Indoor NCAA. Then she went outdoors and broke her own school record, following it up with an SEC Outdoor victory where she once again set a school record. Her progression shows someone who has figured it out, and who is a gamer.
While Denk was ascending (hey-oh!) up the NCAA performance list, her competitors in the SEC did not hold their own against her. By “SEC” I mean Arkansas. The Razorbacks have three of the top 15 vaulters in the country, but Denk has beaten them all head-to-head. When the margins between 2nd and 8th place is one bar (six inches or less), confidence against your competition is a huge advantage.
The biggest obstacle will be if she can get on a bigger pole to vault her higher into the air. In short, the more force you can put into a pole from running and planting, the more force a pole can accept then redistribute by bending and then literally flinging the athlete through the air.
The entry height is 4.05m (13’ 2 3/4”), then will go up by 15cm (just under 6”). Depending on how she is feeling, she will come in at 4.05m or the next height 4.20. Based on her year, 4.20m seems most likely and eliminates any chance at an early scratch. When the bar gets to 4.35m, she will be close to her personal best.
The next bar 4.45m will be an attempt at a bar she has not yet cleared in competition. This is when she will need to use a 15’ pole. This is also when the field will begin to separate as it is the top end of most vaulters.
Denk has moved up poles this year, but if she wants to compete for the top spot in the country, she will need to clear 15’- or at least get on a pole that can allow her to do that.
The NCAA Championships start today in Austin, TX. Kristen Denk will compete tomorrow evening at 7:30 PM.