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Page last updated at 10:00 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 11:00 UK

Britain's high-fliers

Kate Dennison and Steve Lewis
Kate Dennison and Steve Lewis reaching for the heights in Berlin and beyond

By Mark Ashenden

Planting a long stick in the ground and propelling yourself over the height of a double-decker bus is not a job for everyone.

Two young pole vaulters currently making it look easy are Britain's Kate Dennison and Steve Lewis and they will be showing off their skills at the World Championships this week.

Why would anybody subject themselves to the bumps and bruises and the gravitational forces six metres off the ground?

"Living on the edge", "scaring yourself" and "really living" is how Lewis, aged 23 and 2006 Commonwealth bronze medallist, describes the experience.


"It's like you're flying," he tells BBC Sport. "When you hit the sweet spot you don't feel anything - you have total freedom.

"You fly over the bar and then it's silent. You're upside down and then you hit the mat. It happens very quickly but it's beautiful."

Dennison, 25, who has broken the British pole vault record six times this year with a current best of 4.57m, says: "When you let go of the pole it's a wicked feeling.

"After going over the bar, you're in freefall - it's amazing. The whole sport is about adrenaline. I love that feeling of being in the air and wanting to go higher."

Stoke-born Lewis got into athletics at 13 as a hurdler but soon found a growing love for the pole.

Winning his Commonwealth medal in Melbourne three years ago is his "greatest ever night" but it is this year he has really come of age following a disappointing Olympics.

In Beijing 12 months ago Lewis failed to make the final, blaming the officials at the time for incorrect bar positions, but he now sees it as part of the "learning curve" and has gone on to grab fourth at the European Indoors and a new personal best of 5.72m in Germany recently.

With men's pole vault qualification on Thursday and the final two days later, Lewis says: "I'm peaking at the right time," while admitting there are still many areas he can improve on.

"Pole vaulting is all about balance. I need to be stronger and faster. In fact, I need to improve by 25% in everything really! Hopefully soon I'll be joining that exclusive 6m club.

"I'm just aiming to make the final and see what happens. But I feel calm, comfortable and pretty confident."

Dennison, who was born in South Africa and moved to Staffordshire aged four, developed her skills on the gym mat.

She was fourth in the British gymnastics championships before moving to pole vault in 2000 and is currently adopting a similar stance as her GB team-mate on her Berlin chances.

"I'm targeting the world final and then it's a case of unleashing what I have and seeing what I can do," she told me before qualifying for Monday's final with a mark of 4.55m.

Despite the prospect of facing Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva (who suffered her first loss for six years in London last month), Dennison has every reason to be in good spirits.

Vaulting into the unknown with BBC Sport

She has set new GB records indoors and outdoors, finished an impressive sixth at the European Indoors and was crowned British champion in Birmingham last month.

"I'm more confident and things are going in the right direction," the Sale Harriers athlete says.

"But Isinbayeva is far above everybody else and losing at Crystal Palace will just spur her on.

"It's just a case of me chipping away. The top 10, top six and then getting on the podium. I'm looking to really make an impact in 2012."

And for anybody thinking of getting involved in the crazy world of pole vaulting, Lewis, who is also into climbing and mountain biking, reveals a few of the skills that could help.

"If you can jump out of a tree, run quite fast and you like a thrill then pole vaulting could be for you," he says.

"But you have to be free of boundaries and be committed. If you get scared then don't do it."

BBC Sport's Tom Fordyce vaults into the unknown

see also
Dennison breaks pole vault record
05 Jul 09 |  Athletics
Stars of 2009: Steve Lewis
20 Feb 09 |  Athletics
Dennison breaks pole vault record
08 Jun 09 |  Athletics
Dennison sets new UK vault mark
19 Mar 09 |  Athletics
GB pick Chambers in Worlds squad
31 Jul 09 |  Athletics
Vaulters hoping to scale heights
07 Mar 08 |  Athletics
Athletics on the BBC
21 Apr 11 |  Athletics

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