The Imprint of Pole Vaulting

Written by Bettina Maclang

1. “One thing you’ll learn is that you can never be the winner all the time.”

This was what Coach Norman Black told us before we left for the ASEAN University Games 2010 in Thailand. In the Philippines, I was seeded #1 in pole vaulting for the competitions that I joined in. This was, of course, if SEA Games medalist Riezel Buenaventura wasn’t jumping against me. Just the same, I was used to being the winner. That whole experience was a humbling one for me. Just like what Coach Norman said, sooner or later, I would have to learn that I couldn’t be the winner all the time.

For the longest time, I realized that I’ve been confused with the phrase “striving for excellence”. When I say that I strive for excellence, does excellence mean: a) ending up the winner even if your win isn’t that much, or b) continuing to beat your best so you improve and grow? Zek Valera, the senior pole vaulter during my time, told me what I did “wrong.” He’d been telling me to do drills, but it fell on deaf ears because I didn’t do additional ones. This was when it hit me that success got to me. I started thinking that I didn’t really have a need for the drills since I’ve consistently been winning with the form that I had. That was wrong because I started to limit myself as long as I was “happy” and #1. I forgot that success is an ongoing process. We can’t stop improving after a win because there are more things to be won. Letting success get to your head will make you feel unnecessarily cocky. You should be humble in victory, gracious in defeat.

However, it shouldn’t stop at just accepting the fact that I couldn’t always win. Again, Coach Norman mentioned from his talk about Building A Champion Team that you have to live in the present tense. When one encounters that inevitable defeat, the best thing to do is move on. But this is not to say that you are going to move on with nothing; of course, it is a given that you figure out what you did wrong and you fix it. You can’t dwell in the past because if you do, you will impede your growth as a person. If it’s broke, fix it. When you’re done fixing it, move on. This is also the same for when you win. You can’t dwell on that victory alone because you have to remember that there are always other people trying to run after your spot. Again, Coach Norman said that the more you win, the bulls-eye target in your chest becomes bigger as well.


2. I am very thankful and privileged to have been given that opportunity.

I am thankful first and foremost because that was something I’ve dreamt of doing – representing the Philippines. It was also a privilege to jump alongside Asia’s best even if I actually paled in comparison to them. Roslinda Samsu and Kathleen Ong from the Malaysian Team truly were one of the most celebrated vaulters in Asia, and it is an honor, more than anything, to have competed against them. Truly, that was one of the highlights of my life.

Zek asked me how it felt to compete against Asia’s best. I guess he sort of expected me to say that I was rattled or that the pressure increased by a mile. But the truth is, I felt an ironic kind of calm and ease that day. The weather was just right, the tartan was great, and I felt stronger than I usually was. The adrenaline kept me jittery and at peace at the same time. Even if I was competing against giants, I was eerily at ease. If I jumped badly, I could speculate that it was because of the weather or the environment and still get “international competition exposure” so it would still be a good thing;  if I matched my personal best, then it would be a “good job” for me, given the foreign environment and the tremendous pressure on me. Should I beat them, then it would be something to be celebrated. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Also, it might be because the mere presence of Asia’s best made me believe that I truly was one of Asia’s best as well, and that I should be more confident because this would be “just another day at the office.”


3. I deserved to be in this delegation.

I would admit that I always doubted my inclusion in that delegation given that my personal best wasn’t really qualified for the competition’s standards. But then one thing I told myself was that I have to first believe in myself before anyone else does. If I doubted my capabilities, then I wouldn’t exude an aura of confidence and people would have a hard time believing in what I say. I know they say that you shouldn’t really pay attention to your critics and haters, but what I meant was that you will not be given enough opportunities that will help you grow and accomplish goals for yourself if the people don’t see your eagerness or your capacity to face the challenge. You have to show them that you are willing to, and that you are capable of at least trying. If I won’t believe in myself, who will?


I thrived under pressure, as Coach Norman suggested. He said that pressure brought out extraordinary results, and he was right. Stress comes in when you’re not prepared, but when you’re prepared, it’s merely pressure. The thing with pressure is that you can overcome it.

From Left: Kathleen Ong (Malaysia, 380m), Me, Roslinda Samsu (Malaysia, 4m, SEA Games Gold Medalist)

From Left: Kathleen Ong (Malaysia, 380m), Me, Roslinda Samsu (Malaysia, 4m, SEA Games Gold Medalist)


  1. Thanks for the excellent information, it really is useful.

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