Thomas Weigl arrives at the University of Guelph Field House for his weekly Tuesday night training session, face mask in hand. In an increasingly unfamiliar world, a few things remain constant: pole vault practice on Tuesdays, and his determination to continue to get better.

Coaching session
Weigl huddles with his teammates and coach, James Sniatenchuk.

The 23-year-old Cambridge, Ont. native broke the University of Guelph Field House record during his last indoor competition before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Although he states that he was barely keeping his head above water throughout the duration of the meet, he had a goal in mind.

“I told myself I was going to jump the field house record,” he says. And he did.

Weigl waits on the runway.
Weigl waits on the runway.

With a jump of 5.21m, Weigl set a new U of G record as well as a new personal best. This jump would solidify his ranking as the best in Canada under 23 in the pole vault event.

“I do it because I love it, and enjoy it. The minute I stop enjoying it, I’m out.”

Pole vaulting, also known as pole jumping, is a track and field event in which the athlete uses a long and flexible pole to aid them in jumping over a high bar. Or, as Weigl puts it, “just run fast, jump, then do a half back flip.”

How long are pole vaulting poles?

Poles are manufactured for people of all skill levels and body sizes, with sizes as short as 3.05 m (10 ft) to as long as 5.30 m (17 ft 5 in), with a wide range of weight ratings.

What is a "successful vault"?

A successful vault is one in which the crossbar remains in place when the vaulter has left the landing area.

How does elimination work?

Competitors may begin vaulting at any height announced by the chief judge or may pass, at their own discretion. Three consecutive missed vaults, at any height or combination of heights, will eliminate the vaulter from the competition.

What happens if a tie occurs during competition?

The victory goes to the vaulter who clears the greatest height during the final. If two or more vaulters tie for first place, the tie-breakers are: 1) The fewest misses at the height at which the tie occurred, and 2) The fewest misses throughout the competition.

What are poles made of?

They are usually made from fiberglass or carbon fiber, but are considered the least regulated apparatus in Olympic contention. 

 Weigl credits his mother, a former sprinter, with his love for track and field.  He started his athletic career on a similar path, but quickly learned the event wasn’t his forte. He remembers being at a high school track meet and seeing the pole vault event and thinking to himself: “I need to be doing that.”  
“I went to the high school coach after that and told him I wanted to learn how to do that,” he says. It wasn’t always a match made in heaven. After many failed attempts, he quit the event before watching it at another track meet and deciding to try again. He says he was determined to make the event work, even if he had no idea what he was doing and spent the majority of his high school years “winging it”.

“I said to myself, ‘I need to be doing that’.”

He credits his graduation from high school amateur to actual contender with the discovery of his long-time coach, James Sniatenchuk. Sniatenchuk runs Elite PoleVault Club and volunteers as an assistant coach to the University of Guelph Track and Field team. He operates on his own dollar and time, and dedicates his knowledge and expertise as former pole vaulter to his athletes.

Weigl and Sniatenchuk share a laugh about technique.
Weigl and Sniatenchuk share a laugh about technique.

This kind of self-sufficiency is a contributing factor to the symbiotic relationship between Weigl and Sniatenchuk. Both men fund their own athletic careers, buying their own equipment, as the event is often overlooked by university athletic funding, and Sniatenchuk is not on university payroll. He could potentially be credited with the continuation of Weigl’s pole vault career past the high school level. When faced with a decision about his future, Sniatenchuk was the one who convinced him to join the University of Guelph program, prompting Weigl to take a fifth year of high school and summer school course in order to earn the credits and average he needed to attend university. They have a mutual respect for one another, and Weigl appreciates Sniatenchuk’s quiet approach to coaching. It’s one of the main reasons they work so well together.

When COVID hit in March, it derailed Weigl’s hopes for a 2020 outdoor season. The University of Guelph shut it doors, meets were cancelled and everything was put on pause.
Sniatenchuk built a homemade runway in his backyard where his athletes spent the majority of their summer training. When that no longer became an option for them, he petitioned with the University of Guelph administration to let non-student athletes (like Weigl) train at their facilities. Despite many rules and health regulations, they are one of the few athletic facilities in Ontario allowing in-person training.

Having only been crowned with his #1 ranking in March, Weigl struggles to determine what his next steps are. “I do it because I love it, and enjoy it. The minute I stop enjoying it, I’m out.” When asked if he stills enjoys the sport under these current circumstances, he pauses.

University of Toronto, 5.02m

“I still love it. So I’ll continue.”

“I still love it, So I’ll continue.”

As of December 2020, Athletics Canada has not released a plan to resume competition in Canada. This poses a threat not only to Weigl’s pole vaulting future, but to any Canadians participating in the sport. American competitions have resumed as of summer, and European Diamond League competitions, an elite series of events composed of the world’s top track and field athletes, were allowed to occur as well (although Canadian athletes were advised not to attend).

Without a Canadian National competition, many athletes will lose their rank and be out of future competition contention. When asked if he fears this standstill will negatively affect his PV career, Weigl says this:

“Just gotta keep jumping, I guess. The rest comes later.”

Perhaps what makes Thomas Weigl great isn’t just superior genetics and an abundance of athletic ability, what sets him apart is his ability to keep going, no matter what lies ahead.

Thomas Weigl, 2020 Indoor Season

Guelph Last Chance, 5.21m 86.833%
Windsor Team Challenge, 5.12m 85.33%
Sharon Anderson Memorial, 5.02m 83.66%
U of T Pole Vault Invitational, 4.91m 81.833%
York Open, 4.82m 80.33%
Can Am Track Classic, 4.82m 80.33%
York University Xmas Open, 4.80m 80%
Tenke, 4.50m 75%