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There are lots of things track and field needs these days.

But women's pole vaulters aren't one of them.Track and field needs drug tests that work.

But not women's pole vaulters.

Track and field needs a world governing body that isn't corrupt and a competent national organization. Fans would be helpful, too.

But not women's pole vaulters.

Track and field needs women's pole vaulters like they need Ben Johnson or another Chinese distance runner or Primo Nebiolo.

But female pole vaulters are coming anyway. They made their first appearance at the Goodwill Games last week and at the U.S. track championships in June, and they have turned up in a handful of other meets as well. The Olympics can't be far behind.

Soon female pole vaulters will be as plentiful as lycra.

These things happen. These are the '90s. Women play real baseball. They fly 747s. They write speeding tickets. They sit on the Supreme Court. They hold STOP signs at road construction sites.

And now they're pole vaulting.


Before anyone writes a letter saying that women can do everything - build a skyscraper, shoot an M-16, chop down redwoods, serve as President, play center for the New York Giants and so on - let's get something straight right now: This has nothing to do with sexism. This has everything to do with survival.

Track meets are too long.

If you plan to attend a track meet (and given the recent popularity of the sport, that isn't likely), be prepared. Pack a lunch. And dinner. And a bar of soap and a razor. Say good-bye to the kids. Ask them to write. Take a pillow and blanket. And a book. Or write one. You'll have time at the stadium.

How long does a modern track and field meet last?

"About two years. Give or take a month," says local track aficionado Bob Wood, who is also chairman of long distance running for USA Track and Field, the sport's governing body in this country.

Track meets weren't always such a time commitment. When the sport began to respond to Title IX and the demand for women's teams, it went about it differently than other sports. Men's and women's basketball teams, for example, didn't decide to play their games simultaneously, every other quarter. Track and field did. Men's and women's track meets were married into one two-ring circus - much to the benefit of women (who wanted to share the interest that men's meets were generating), but to the detriment of the sport.

Over the years, more and more events have been added to the women's program - 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, marathon, triple jump - as the sport has worked toward an equal number of events for both sexes. That means track meets are twice as long as they used to be. They are the War and Peace version of sporting events. Imagine the NBA and NFL adding a fifth quarter.

A typical college invitational lasts six hours or more. The Utah state high school track championships, which has exacerbated the problem by dividing the meet into five classifications for both girls and boys, lasts about 10 hours on Friday and 10 more on Saturday.

"It's a 20-hour time commitment," says Wood, "and that's not counting travel time. Who can sit through all of that."

Lengthening the competition isn't the brightest move for a sport that is already suffering from lack of financial and fan support at all levels. Many fans complain that the meets are simply too long. The addition of the women's pole vault certainly won't help. The pole vault, an event that probably should be included in gymnastics competition (or the circus), is already the longest event in track and field.

("You have to start it yesterday to get it over with tomorrow," says Wood.)

There are obvious solutions open to the sport, although none of them will be pursued. Men's and women's meets could be separated. Or U.S. meet promoters could follow the lead of Europeans, who contest only a select few of the track and field events in a given meet (the 100-meter dash in one meet, but not the 200, and vice versa in another meet, and so on). But neither solution will happen so long as the sport is so closely tied to schools and team scores, as they are in the U.S.

But don't count on such changes. Meanwhile, if you're a big fan of women's pole vault, you might want to check out a track meet again some time. But take a book.