Pole vault has basically been one of the forgotten events in South African athletics for the last decade but just maybe Eben Beukes (Tuks) started a revival on Saturday when he jumped 5.60 metres at Gauteng-North meeting at Pilditch. Fanie Jacobs was the last who was able to do so when in 2003 he vaulted 5.60m at a meeting in Rheinau-Freistett. Ockert Brits (6.03 metres) and Riaan Botha (5.91 metres) are the only two South Africans who managed to vault higher than 5.60 metres.
Before Saturday Beukes’ personal best was 5.30 metres. Beukes (25 years old) will agree that much has been said and written about patience being a virtue. He started vaulting when he was 14 and, yes, he has had his highlights but he was not really setting the world alight with his vaulting exploits. Many an athlete would have decided long ago to call it a day, but not Beukes.
In spite of working full-time as a teacher at St Paulus Primary School in Pretoria, he stuck to his guns. According to Beukes he never contemplated to quit vaulting. He says: ‘Pole vaulting is a fantastic sport and I love doing it. The main reason why I kept going was that I had unfinished business. Long ago I set myself the goal to become one of the top pole vaulters on the South African all-time list and this kept me motivated to keep going all these years. Now, at long last, I can say that I am one of South Africa’s top-four pole vaulters and it is really very special.’
The fact that he has jumped 5.60 metres means that Beukes is just 10 centimetres shy of qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio. He says: ‘To be honest, it would be nice to qualify for the Olympic Games but for now I am not really thinking about it. My main goal is to get people to again take note of pole vaulting in South Africa. To achieve this means that I will have to consistently jump 5.50 metres and higher. If I manage to do so it will be just a question of time before I clear another exceptional height.’ On Saturday Beukes cleared 5.40 metres with his first attempt.
He needed two jumps to clear 5.50 metres and then he cleared 5.60m with his next attempt. When Beukes’ coach, Jakes Van Vuuren, was asked how he felt about the 5.60 metre jump he sighed before answering: ‘Jiss! This has been very long in the making. I am relieved and grateful that it happened at long last. I certainly cannot take credit as his only coach. Eben’s jump is the result of the input of many people involved in pole vaulting. Over the years Fanie Jacobs and Riaan Botha have helped Eben a lot with advice. Basically all of us involved with pole vaulting in South Africa were hoping for a performance like this to revive our sport. Now the challenge for us is to get three more athletes to jump 5.40m and higher. My advice to Eben before his 5.60 metres attempt was to just go with the flow and not become obsessed with the height he was trying to clear. The Olympics is certainly in the back of our minds but we are not going to become obsessed about him having to jump a certain height. In pole vaulting that is a big mistake to make.’
At the same meeting on Saturday Lindsay Hanekom (Tuks/HPC) set two personal bests running 46.53 seconds in the 400 metres and 21.57s in the 200 metres. Hanekom’s speciality is the 400-hurdles. He represented South Africa at the World Student Games last year. Nico Van Heerden, his coach, says he is not surprised: ‘I think this is the breakthrough towards which we have been working. I have always known that Lindsay is capable of running fast times, but he needed to prove it to himself. I want him to compete in a few more sprint races before he does his first hurdles race. The Gauteng-North Championships will probably be the first time he will race the 400-hurdles.’
At a meeting at the University of Johannesburg Wenda Nel (Tuks/HPC), 400-hurdles finalist at last year’s World Championships, won the 400 metres in a personal best time of 52.09. Gezelle Magerman (Tuks/HPC) finished second in 54.78s. Magerman, a former Olympic Youth Champion, also won the 200 metres B-race in 24.94s.
Photo credit: Jakes Van Vuuren