Will That Vaulting Pole Fit In The Overhead Bin?

There's a lot of unusual equipment being schlepped on airplanes en route to London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games like kayaks, bows and arrows, rifles. But maybe the oddest in terms of baggage and handling are the poles used by pole vaulters. Ranging in size from 15 to 17 feet, the poles cannot be broken down, and present an interesting exercise in patience at the check-in counter. Robert Siegel talks with former Olympian Jeff Hartwig about how pole vaulters manage their equipment.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Olympic athletes sometimes come with Olympian baggage: kayaks, bows and arrows, javelins, horses for equestrian events, sails for windsurfers and yachtsmen, rifles. That's a lot of stuff heading into London.

But Jeff Hartwig's clients just may have the most problematic piece of sporting cargo. Hartwig is a former Olympic pole vaulter. He competed in the Beijing Games four years ago. He is now the agent for Olympian pole vaulters Jeremy Scott and Becky Holliday, who are heading to London soon to compete for the U.S. team. And he joins us now from Leverkusen, Germany.

Welcome to the program.

JEFF HARTWIG: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Let's say I'm a pole vaulter. Do I go to the airport and show up at the check-in with my pole?

HARTWIG: You actually do. Sling them over your shoulder and walk up to the counter and check them with your regular luggage.

SIEGEL: Do I have a prayer of getting that on the plane?

(LAUGHTER)

HARTWIG: Hopefully you do. It's always a challenge, when you're traveling with pole vaulters, to know exactly what airlines would carry the poles and what aircraft they'll fit on.

SIEGEL: How big is a pole actually for pole vaulters?

HARTWIG: Well, the ladies' poles are actually around 15 feet. And the guys' poles are as long as 17 feet. So, you know, a 17-foot suitcase is a little bit cumbersome for the overhead bin.

SIEGEL: And they're all one piece. Nobody has developed a pole like a pool cue that you can assemble for parts?

HARTWIG: Exactly, actually it's in the rules. The rules actually present the pole from being a multiple unit. So it has to be one single piece of construction.

SIEGEL: And when you were vaulting, did you travel with more than one pole?

HARTWIG: I usually carried seven poles in a plastic corrugated tube. And it would be similar to the case you would carry a pool cue in. The poles just slide inside the tube and then they have kind of a protective outer bag. And a lot of times, especially overseas, the security agents will ask you to open the bag, slide the poles out, just so they can inspect them and they what they are.

SIEGEL: Well, in the lore of pole vaulters, what are some of the experiences people have had tried to check that pole onto a plane?

HARTWIG: Well, I've heard just about every story you can imagine, from people who have successfully checked poles in and the baggage people cut them in half, in an effort to make them a little smaller, to poles that have been run over and a few other things. But generally speaking, the airlines that do handle the poles do a great job with them.

SIEGEL: Have you ever heard of a pole vaulter trying to carry on the pole?

HARTWIG: Actually I've competed myself in the Ukraine a couple of times. And from Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, to the small city that we went, there was no other way to get the poles on the plane other than to slide them through the window and lay them in the aisle. And I have heard of planes, prior to 9/11, where the athletes were allowed to put their poles in the aisle, and just kind of strap them into the seats underneath.

SIEGEL: Well, Jeff, leaving aside the perils of the pole here for a moment, as someone who's so involved in pole vaulting, who is the pole vaulter or the pole vaulters to watch in these games?

HARTWIG: Oh, I would say probably going into the games the heavy favorites for the men would be a French vaulter by the name of Renault Lavillenie. Probably the favorite of the ladies' side is Yelena Isinbayeva from Russia.

But the Americans have two very strong candidates: Brad Walker, who is our current U.S. record holder; and then Jenn Suhr, who is the current American record holder on the ladies' side, was actually the silver medallist in Beijing. And I feel like those two could certainly challenge for the top spot in the games.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Hartwig, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

HARTWIG: More than welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Jeff Hartwig, pole vaulter. He competed in the Beijing Olympic Games. Nowadays, he's an agent for pole vaulters and two of his vaulters will be competing in London.

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