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Prague, Czech RepublicCzech jumpers won both divisions of the 14th Winter Pole Vault Meeting in Prague with personal bests as Michal Balner leaped 5.70m for the men’s title and Jirina Ptácníková outdueled Germany’s Lisa Ryjikh at 4.51m on the women’s side.
The fields for this yearly fixture at the Strahov Indoor Sports Hall looked far less international than in many of the recent editions, but the local jumpers took it upon themselves to reward the efforts of meet director and coach, Pavel Beran.
It was Balner who provided the most dramatic moment in the later-afternoon competition. Facing a third attempt at 5.70m - and with Sweden’s Oskar Janson leading the competition with a first-jump 5.53m - the 27-year-old Opava native charged down the runway and came away with a lifetime best to pull out a timely win, as he also achieved the performance norm for Doha. Still riding the high that a personal best brings, Balner called for 5.75m and had one reasonably good attempt before ending the competition.
The erstwhile leader at 5.53m, Janson still held second while Beijing finalist Jan Kudlicka, also an Opava product, took third at the same height. Both of the Czechs had passed 5.63m - a meaningless height on the ‘Road to Doha’ - and after the 34-year-old Swede failed once at that height, he also moved to 5.70m for his final tries.
Balner felt a big weight removed from his shoulders tonight with the 5.70m clearance. “It was like a wall that had been in front of me ever since Osaka,” he said, referring to the 2007 season which had seen his first 5.60m leap. Frustrating failures in ensuing seasons to make national teams in for Beijing, Torino or Berlin followed, but tonight brought him redemption and a reward for patience.
Balner’s coach at Dukla Praha, Boleslav Patera, was optimistic about the rest of this year for his protégé. “Michal was ready to attack 5.70m last weekend in Potsdam, but the six-hour competition and the long waits between attempts worked against him.” The coach continued, “I think he will have good shots at 5.80m before the season is over.”
The women’s competition saw Ptácníková methodically making first-attempt clearances up through 4.51m, equaling her personal best from last weekend in Valencia, before exiting at 4.61m. Germany’s Lisa Ryjikh likewise succeeded at the same three heights, but needed an extra attempt at two of them and ended up second in the countback. Romana Malácová was far back in third at 4.20m, as she passed 4.31m to take three unsuccessful attempts at a would-be Doha qualifier of 4.41m.
Norway’s Cathrine Larsåsen and Denise von Eynatten of Germany took the next two places, also at 4.20m, while former World Indoor Champion Pavla Rybová, uncharacteristically off form with her sixth-place 4.05m, moves to within one competition of her announced retirement at the end of the indoor season.
In comparing the Valencia and Prague venues which yielded her two PBs this week, the 23-year-old Ptácníková unequivocally said that the Prague hall was more to her liking, and it wasn’t only because of the familiarity that a home facility gives.
“This floor is on a solid surface and I can use my speed to greater advantage than on a wooden surface like the one in Valencia,” she said. “I can also move to harder poles on this kind of a floor.” Much of Ptácníková’s speed comes through inheritance, as her father - and her current speed trainer - is one-time European indoor 60m bronze medalist František Ptácník. She will next compete this weekend in Birmingham before coming back to Prague for the Czech Championships at the end of the month.
Ryjikh, another father-coached vaulter (Vladimir Ryjikh), was pleased with her 4.51m, only one centimetre away from her indoor PB but more importantly a mark exceeding the German federation-mandated limit of 4.50m for Doha. But unlike her Czech counterpart, the 21-year-old claimed to have a liking for all jumping surfaces and could adapt to any condition at hand.
But she admitted a bit of a surprise upon arriving in Prague yesterday and seeing the air-inflated Strahov hall for the first time. “I asked myself, ‘Am I going to be able to jump in that balloon?’” In the end, it was the varying light level which caused the most problem. “It was fine yesterday in the afternoon when we practiced because the sun was shining through the roof quite well, but late today there was a lot less light.” Still, both women solved any and all problems with performances at or near their career bests.
Although billed as a pole vaulting competition, there were some ancillary competitions scattered throughout the programme around the anchor events.
European indoor silver medallist Lucie Škrobáková flew through the Women’s 60 Metres Hurdles in a season-best 8.04, and later sprinted the same distance in two races of 7.53 and 7.50.
Beijing long jump finalist Roman Novotný showed good speed as he covered 60m in the competiton’s top time of 6.89, after which he won his specialty with a season-best 7.76m.
Slovak triple-jump specialist Dana Veldáková had her first indoor long jump competition in five years and came away victorious with 6.42m, only one centimetre off her PB.