Thoughts on Masters Athletics

Author: Neal Mason

Neal’s account of his career:

“I stopped being an athlete at nineteen, even though representing England, but came back after a small gap – of fifty-one years. It was interesting to see what had changed. My event was, and is, the pole vault, so the first thing I noticed was the landing area. The modern one provides a vast improvement in safety – so, of course, the first thing I did on it was break my foot. The second was to break a rib. Despite this perversity, I wouldn’t want to go back to the sand pits we landed in years ago. There were a few with offcuts of foam rubber but, as they were uncovered, they were usually sopping wet, making the event semi-aquatic. Crystal Palace sports complex was new then and one of the safer facilities, yet the designers happily lined the pole vault run-up with raised concrete kerbing. I still have film of my head only just missing it.”

“Poles were expensive and hard to come by. I used Skypoles rated at 160 pounds weight (we didn’t have flex numbers then) which cost £55 each. I was earning £8 per week gross. Transportation meant persuading British Railways to let me feed them into a corridor train or, for shorter journeys, walking. I still have a ‘Daily Express’ cutting which shows me walking from White City to Crystal Palace. I lost count of the nights I spent on railway stations (a few of them had waiting rooms with coal fires)

The box for planting the pole in used to me made of wood with a zinc floor. I was amazed to see that a number of modern boxes, made of metal, have sharp edges. Vaulters have been killed or seriously injured by landing on them. I’d have thought such things would have today’s health and safety inspectors reaching for their smelling salts.

There were very few indoor tracks half a century ago – so, in that respect, nothing has changed. I went to school in Norfolk and was privileged to train occasionally at RAF Feltwell – a sand pit with a concrete run-up. Later, I used RAF Cosford, which was an improvement; the track and run-ups were made of wood. I live now in Wiltshire, so the nearest indoor facilities are in Uxbridge and Cardiff, sixty-five and eighty miles away. At Cardiff, when the wind’s in a certain direction and the doors are open, you could get a wind-assisted. Lee Valley is a long way, but good for meetings, although it seems difficult to find healthy food there. You can get a curry though; just the thing before a sprint”

The country needs more indoor facilities, particularly for vaulters. Other events are uncomfortable in poor weather, but nothing like trying to pole vault in a snow storm.

Neal will be back in action at the “Jim Day Event” on 22nd September and details for those also interested can be found at thelondonpolevaultacademy.com the event is held at Sutton. Already attracted over 100 entrants, more importantly it is open to all ages.