With both hands gripping the pole and overlooking the crossbar hung in the air dozens of metres away, the pole vaulter takes a deep breath, sprints down the runway to achieve the correct position, plants the pole into the vault box, initiates the take-off, and finally clears the bar. The pole vaulter, Ivan CHEUNG Pui-yin, is a graduate of Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) in Sports and Recreation Management of Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi). He is currently a member of the men’s pole vaulting team of Hong Kong. Following the jump, Ivan breathes out some air, picks up the pole, slowly walks back to the approach point again while thinking over the jump just now, and gets prepared for another try again.
Two years ago, upon return to Hong Kong after completing a master’s degree programme in the UK, Ivan made up his mind to be a full-time athlete. Last year, he broke the men’s pole vaulting record of Hong Kong at 4.45 metres. He does not rest on the laurels but trains himself more vigorously with the hope to bridge the gap with Asian athletes so that he can enter the Olympic Games arena one day.
Come in touch with pole vaulting
Ivan is hooked to sports since young age. During his secondary school years, he took part in a decathlon of which pole vaulting was part of the game. In fact, Ivan has a phobia of heights, with sweaty palms whenever he is in a high place. “As a decathlon athlete, I really didn’t want any one of the events ended up in failure,” he said. “So, I plucked up my courage. At the first swing when my whole body was in the air, my biggest fear was that I would fall outside the landing pad and be injured. As practice makes perfect, I made it in the end.” In another decathlon, Ivan’s pole vaulting record earned him being enlisted by the Hong Kong pole vaulting team and his bond with the sport thus began.
Ivan was only 15 when he first represented Hong Kong in a sports event. Thinking that he “would make it” if he could simply clear the bar, he hit a stand accidentally due to an improper take-off during the warm-up and injured his arm. He had to withdraw and receive treatment immediately. The failed experience, first encountered in an international competition, matures him a lot. “From the moment I put on the Team Hong Kong outfit, I shall not make any excuse not to try hard. I must put in my best. Only then am I living out my promise to the team and myself.”
Turn full-time athlete for breakthrough
Upon completion of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) in 2012, Ivan enrolled in THEi’s Sports and Recreation Management programme, aiming to further his interest and professional development in sports. He hoped to deepen his professional knowledge in various sport domains. Ivan pointed out that he had acquired, through the programme, deeper understanding of professional areas like sports training principles and planning, health and sports performance dietetics, sports injury management, functional anatomy and exercise physiology, individual and team-based sports coaching, and sports psychology. All these are conducive to enhancing his performance in the field and strengthening his determination in taking pole vaulting as his career. “I used to think the goal is to clear the bar. But actually, it takes so much work to achieve a good vaulting. Something as simple as the width of the handgrips, the pace of approach, or the inversion are determining factors,” he said. “From time to time, I apply what I learnt at THEi to my daily practice. And every time when the application brings forth improvement, my passion and confidence in pole vaulting leaps!”
After graduating from THEi, Ivan joined a master’s degree programme in sports science with a UK university. The biggest gain there was more time for practice. He also had the opportunity to play under the guidance of a foreign coach. At that time, he came to realise that dedicated training is a must for achieving good vaulting results. He thus decided to be a full-time athlete after returning to Hong Kong, aspiring to achieve breakthroughs. “I have to chase down my dream. I enjoy immense satisfaction every time when I make it to a new height.”
Vow for more wins
The relentless training allows Ivan to emerge with flying colours in the field. He has since last year beaten the Hong Kong records for three times, which renders him a rising star in the sporting world. The excellent result also affirms his earlier conviction in going after his dream. But never does Ivan loosen up. Instead, he urges himself even harder. “Originally, I had set with the coach the goal of 4.70 metres. Now that I made 4.45 metres, there is still some gap in between. What’s more, the qualifier for the Olympics is 5.80 metres. I would like to further apply my knowledge and step up my training to achieve my goal over time.”
Pole vaulting involves several phases from the approach, take-off, swing-up, fly-away to the final landing in the pits, all of which to be completed in ten seconds. A breakthrough as small as one centimetre will require of the vaulter countless time and perspiration. Success will only follow after repeated training and practice. Looking ahead, Ivan would like to exchange views with sportsmen across the globe, enriching his competition experience and scaling new heights in his athletic career.