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Tan Jun Zhang Solomon
  • December 24th, 2005

Tan Jun Zhang Solomon

In this interview we spoke to one of the very handful pole vaulters in Singapore. He is national serviceman Solomon Tan, who will be heading to NTU for further studies soon. His event is one that requires a sprinter dash down the ‘runway’, the immense raw power for the lift-off and graceful moves of a gymnast in the air. Sounds difficult, you bet it is!

Height: 1.65m

Weight: 67kg

Date of Birth: 28th April 1985

Jumps Coach: David Yeo

Sprints/Conditioning Coach : Uli Kunst

Personal Best: 4.60m

  1. What are you currently doing now. Tell us some of your athletics background.

    Currently I am serving my national service in the Singapore Civil Defence Force. How I got out of the usual army/tekong ritual was pure luck and it has benefited my sport significantly.

  2. Do you do other sports previously? What’s next? Studying or work?

    About my sporting history, in primary school I was extremely active. I played softball, did high jump and even ran 100m in some meet sponsored by MILO. It was the first time I ever saw spike shoes because I was still sprinting in regular sports shoes! Then when I went to Chinese High, I was selected for Athletics because i was spotted by my seniors from my primary school. Was rather unhappy in the beginning, but then again, who knew that 7 years down the road I am still in this sport. I was selected for sprints, but I fell in love with the way the seniors were flying around by the side of the track, so i volunteered to try pole vaulting.

    After my NS, I’ll be going to NTU for further studies, thus my sporting career will be extended by another 4 years at least. It’s reality that in Singapore, working and pursuing your sporting dreams do not walk hand in hand. I know some companies do give time off for national athletes as magazines have written about it before. But surely your promotion prospects depend on the efficiency you portray while you are IN the office, not when you are on the track.

  3. In Singapore context, our pursuit of either Track or Field is considered against the norm where we spend countless hours ‘perfecting’ our sport and the sacrifices we made. Do you think it’s worth it in the end?

    ‘Sacrifices’ is a word every athlete has to come across. National level, club level or for leisure. I have sacrificed a lot of hours from school for overseas trainings and competitions. So much so that my regular day basically revolves around the stadium or the gym. That is a good 4-5 hours gone. My obsession(yes the word is obsession) with pole vault is overwhelming that in the end my ex girlfriend left me. Sacrifices have to be made definitely.

    It is still worth it, because how many people in Singapore get to fly over a height of an overhead bridge? 4.60m puts me at national all time third, with national record holder Mr Mok Hay Foo and NYP Teacher cum Coach Mr Ng Kean Mun, 4.66m and 4.65m respectively, all time first and second. So to say, only 3 of us have flown over the maximum legal height for cargo carrying vehicles. That’s about nearly 2 and a half storeys high, and the adrenaline of safe free falling is not something you can experience every day. The next closest experience would be roller coaster-ing?

  4. There’s not so many pole vaulters in Singapore. What can the association or the sporting community do to encourage more people taking up the event

    It is a known fact that there’re only a handful of vaulters compared to 100m sprinters in the athletics scene. Firstly not many secondary schools possess the necessary equipment. So you tend to come across pole vaulters that are from Chinese High, Raffles, SJI, Catholic High and Victoria. It is a dangerous sport, and even the bravest people i know of give me the shrug when I ask them to try it out. No seasoned vaulters are injury free. I think the association could organise pole vaulting workshops for the public. When i was training in Adelaide, Australia, the stadium had 4 pole vault mattresses. There was a vaulting camp going on every other month, and a decent shed at the back of the stadium with a galore of equipment specially made to simulate the actual vault. I felt at home, even when ‘home’ was miles away. In the US pole vault camps last for weeks, and they actually rake in good responses and participation from young kids and veterans. What amazes me the most is BEACH VAULTING! How they set up the mattress and run way on the sand and compete in swimming trunks and bikini. I dream of competing in one someday. With such extensive advertising of the event, pole vaulting is actually COOL in the US, Germany, Australia etc. Athletics itself is not that glamorous in the local scene, hence pole vaulting is still far from being in the limelight.

  5. What goes through your mind when you down at the line ready to launch into the air

    When I am on the run way, getting ready to launch into the air, my mind is reminding my body of the necessary movements to execute, because the minute you move from stationary, it is a mere second before you land on the mattress again. In this 1.5 second, you would have done a 30m sprint, made a long jump take off, a gymnast horizontal bar rotation, canoeist row, a shot put throw and land like a small kid in a foam playground. 4 different sports in 1 second. Beat that. It has been debated as to whether you need to have a gymnastic background, or done sprints or horizontal jumps before you can do pole vault well. There are different schools of pole vaulters in the world. US vaulters are fast and strong. Nick Hysong, olympics gold medalist, can do a 100m in 10.3s. Not even our national record for 100m is 10.3s flat. African vaulter Brits Okkert is rumored to have done 230kg bench presses. Russian Vaulter Makxim Tarasov is 1.96m tall. Ukraine vaulter and WR holder Sergey Bubka is an ex-gymnast. There isn’t any specification in the calibration of a pole vaulter, but generally one must be strong, fast, agile and versatile.

  6. In short what are the technical aspects that goes into pole vaulting? I believe you need a strong core right? Lots of stability. Do share with us. Your training is likely to be different. What kind of preparation do you usually do in off-season & competition-season

    One thing for sure is that a vaulter’s trainings will never be mundane. You have to do speedwork, gymnastics, strength and technique all within a season. What I usually do is lots of strength work during off season. Gymnastics is an essential, be it during or off season. Speedwork and technique is usually during season. Knowing the break down of the 1 second off the ground, you roughly know what is required of a vaulter in terms of the various components. Also, competitions are very lengthy. There was this meet in 2002. It started at 2pm, and i only made my first recorded height at 7pm! So yes, even endurance is required.

  7. Who are your role models. Those who has given you hope or inspired you to do what you love

    Who doesn’t dream of holding the world record, so my greatest role model is of course Sergey Bubka. He broke the record 7 times in a meet and pocketed a cool 7 million, 1 for each record made. What’s admirable isn’t the money, but his ability to vault higher and higher in 7 consecutive jumps. This is a great example to remind myself that one has no limits during a competition. You may have broken the record, but if you are satisfied and end the competition after breaking it once, you may not know how much higher you can ever go, and also lose the 6 million dollars?

    I’ve had training stints in Adelaide and Bochum,Germany. During these stints I’ve met several people who inspired and motivated me. In Adelaide, there is this guy who stays on the mountains. But he attends trainings regularly and even works part time and studies too! And he is about my standard. Looking at myself, i wonder if i have that will power to juggle my life like that. In Bochum, I had a room mate who had only 1 arm. And he was a shot putter who could putt decent distances. What made him persevere to make good of what he had really motivated me. We’re almost perfect, yet some of us do not make full use of what we have and give up at the slightest obstacle.

  8. What are your future plans and long term goals? Are these your goals or was this set by your coach. Do you share the same ideals as your coach?

    My long term goal is to win SEA Games and eventually a medal in Asian Games. My jumps coach has bigger plans set for me, and I shall not contest his judgement because he knows my abilities better than i think i do.

  9. You missed out on going to SEA Games 2005 this time round. How do you feel about it? Do you think SNOC has overlooked your entry. If per-say you were selected to go, how would you fare your chances at the games for a podium finish

    Regarding SEA Games 2005, it is a really touchy issue. Many things have happened which could constitute to the end result. But personally, I should say I have never trained harder than this year. Due to understanding officers in my scdf camp, I am able to train 6 days a week. And my attendance is 99.9% except for some days i fell sick. There were also blunders regarding my new poles. SAA ordered them around May, but somehow the shipment arrived only in late August. To my horror, the poles were all damaged, so they had to reship new ones again. And finally the poles arrived, a week before Singapore Open. But to my surprise, what came were not the poles i had ordered for myself. Not the ones that I needed to do bigger heights. The company said these were what they could send at short notice and some more poles were still on the way. Anyway I borrowed the poles i needed from Mr Ng Kean Mun, the NYP Coach, and Singapore Open was a perfect chance to qualify and better the national record. I made a big clearance when I recorded my first height at 4.50m on my first attempt. I was beaming when i walked back to the shelter to prepare for the next height, 4.60m. Deep inside i knew today is the day. Who knew my calves cramped when i made my first run at 4.60m. I wasted 2 attempts with the pain hindering my run. So I decided to put mind over body, and made my last attempt anyway. My strides turned out shorter because i could not propel aggressively with my feet, and took off too far. As a result i fell backwards and landed on a limp ankle. My ligament was partially torn during that fall.

    As much as i would like to speculate that if this did not happen, I would have qualified for the Games, but since it was all meant to be, I accept my fate. Right now i am nursing my injury, so if i was given a chance to go to the Games, I might have to turn it down reluctantly because i will not be able to get back to my form during Singapore Open. SNOC did not really overlook my entry, because it is black and white. You qualify so you go. I did not qualify this time, so I have to train harder. Since I made a rookie appearance in Vietnam 2003, I expect myself to be a medal winner at the next games. Although the results of Vietnam 03 was a surprise, I have not made any big heights yet this year so I can’t confidently say there’s a chance at a podium finish anyway.

  10. Compared to other South east Asian region pole vaulters, where do Singapore athletes compared to them? Are we doing enough to keep up or get ahead or we ‘going downhill’

    Compared to other SEA vaulters, I should say we’re not having enough support for athletes making the transition from junior to senior level. Our standards have improved, and we do have a handful of vaulters who did 4.30m during their junior days, and at junior level Singapore is still equal level as the other SEA vaulters. However army dissolved 4 such athletes, and I am the only one who has made it past junior level and still training actively. This is really saddening as other SEA athletes do not have huge commitments such as compulsory national service and competitive university mates, thus being able to focus more on their trainings. And especially at 20~23, you get stronger and faster really quickly, so you are capable of using longer and harder poles, which in turn really boosts your height clearance.

  11. Any advice for young junior athletes

    For young junior athletes, if you know what you want, go for it. I traded the norm, (army,tekong,sispec/OCS) for my sports, because this is what i really want. A Lieutenant rank doesnt say much about my abilities and there are thousands of Lta officers out there. But being the national record holder and a SEA Games champion, you really stand out. And for people who would like to take up the sport, please approach me. I’d be glad to share some advice. To the female athletes, pole vaulting for women is still a young sport in SEA and there aren’t many active female vaulters in singapore. Dont be shy alright? Haha.

Thank you Solomon for your participation

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Posted by Uncle Sha.
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