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Beukes looks to rejuvenate SA pole-vaulting scene

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Eben Beukes (Tuks) is certainly no one-jump wonder! That much became abundantly clear on Saturday when he won the pole vault at a local meeting in Pretoria and cleared the bar at 5.50 metres.
It was the second time in three weeks that Beukes managed to jump 5.50m. Three weeks ago, also at a league meeting at Pilditch, he jumped 5.60m.
A quick glance at the South African pole vault statistics for the past 10 years puts Beukes’ performances into perspective – since 2006 just three local vaulters have been able to jump higher than 5.50.
In 2006 Ockert Brits cleared 5.82, four years later Cheyne Rahme jumped 5.50 and now, six years later, Beukes jumped 5.60 metres, which he followed up with his attempt of 5.50.
In the past 10 years he was the only vaulter was able to clear 5.50m and higher on two separate occasions in the same year.
In fact, South African pole vaulting went through such a bad patch at one stage that the women’s world record holder in the pole vault, Yelena Isinbayeva (Russia), would have been a serious medal contender at SA Championships if she were allowed to compete against the men in 2008 and  2009.
In 2008 Jan Blignaut won the gold medal at the South African Championships, clearing 4.80m. In 2009 Brits, South Africa’s pole vault legend, came out of retirement to win the national title with a jump of 5.10m. The second and third placed athletes both jumped 4.80 metres. In 2010 the winning height at the national championships was again 4.80 metres.
Between 2008 to 2009 Isinbayeva recorded jumps of 5.03m, 5.04m, 5.05m and 5.06m.
So there’s ample reason to be excited about Beukes’s performances. At long last it seems as if a revival in South African pole vaulting is on the cards. This is especially true considering that Michael Cilliers cleared 5.40m on Saturday and it’s been quite a few years since two local athletes cleared 5.40m at the same meeting.
Beukes opened his campaign on Saturday by clearing 5.20, followed by a jump of 5.40m before he cleared 5.50m.
Afterwards he said he was quite happy with his performance. ‘It was important to me to jump 5.50m again to prove to myself that my 5.60m attempt was no fluke. Clearing 5.50m was just the confidence booster I needed. I now know that I am capable of consistently clearing good heights, providing I keep my wits about me throughout the competition.’
The Tuks athlete admitted that the Olympic Games in Rio are at the back of his mind. ‘I know I am capable of jumping 5.70m, which is the qualifying standard, but it would be foolish to become obsessed with it. For me it’s a case of if it happens it happens.’
According to coach, Jakes van Vuuren, the most important challenge now is to ensure that Beukes performs consistently every time he competes.
‘At the moment it is a numbers game for me. On Saturday he started at 5.20m. Next weekend, at the Gauteng North Championships, his starting height will be 5.25m. Depending on how it plays out, he could start at 5.30m the next time he competes.
‘We’re in no rush at the moment to get to the really big heights. We’ll take it step by step. I would be satisfied if Eben can jump higher than 5.50m three or four times before the end of the season. Should he be able to do that, there’s a good chance that a really big jump could sneak in.
‘And, who knows, when that happens it might just be good enough to get him to the Olympics.’

Picture of Beukes courtesy of Reg Caldecott


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