It’s the opposite of the limbo, but in a much more elite-sport sort of way.

Physics, gravity and propulsion all combine (somehow) to propel a pole vaulter over a stick that’s suspended impossibly high in the air.

Elite pole vaulters Garrett Starkey and Alexandra Pevtsova, who also got married in Key West last year, were back on the island on Oct. 5. The pair was practicing at Key West High School in preparation for January’s Pole Vault in Paradise event at Higgs Beach.

Key West resident and former pole vaulter Steve Hanes founded Pole Vault in Paradise as a fundraiser for the high school’s track-and-field team.

The event features elite athletes from all over the world, an official runway, pole and landing pit and a high-flying demonstration of the sport.

Elite pole vaulters Garrett Starkey and Alexandra Pevtsova practice in Key West Tuesday while helping to promote Pole Vault in Paradise, a fundraiser for Key West High School’s track and field team that takes place in January. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

The athletes are always trying to beat their own personal bests or a state or world record, Hanes said, which makes for a great spectator event that draws hundreds each year.

“And this year we’re hoping to draw even more elite athletes given the possibility of cash prizes,” Hanes said.

A little history

Pole vaulting has been around since the ancient Greeks, according to worldathletics.org.

But in the 16th century, it was used in a more practical way to propel people over natural obstacles, like wet marshes in the Netherlands, says Wikipedia.

“Artificial draining of these marshes created a network of open drains or canals intersecting each other. To cross these without getting soaked, while avoiding tedious roundabout journeys over bridges, a stack of jumping poles was kept at every house and used for vaulting over the canals.”

Modern pole vaulting that involved height challenges was started by gymnasts in Germany in the 1800s.

Early athletes used bamboo poles that have since been replaced by steel, fiberglass and now carbon fiber of varying lengths and weights depending on an athlete’s own weight, height and running speed.

“Men’s pole vault has featured at every modern Olympic Games with the United States winning every Olympic title from 1896 to 1968 (if we discount the 1906 intercalated Games). Bob Richards (1952 and 1956) is the only man in history to win two Olympic pole vault titles. Women only made their Olympic pole vault debut in 2000, when American Stacy Dragila struck gold,” Wikipedia states, adding, “It is typically classified as one of the four major jumping events in athletics, alongside the high jump, long jump and triple jump. It is unusual among track and field sports in that it requires a significant amount of specialised equipment in order to participate, even at a basic level. A number of elite pole vaulters have had backgrounds in gymnastics, including world record breakers Yelena Isinbayeva and Brian Sternberg, reflecting the similar physical attributes required for the sports. Running speed, however, may be the most dominant factor. Physical attributes such as speed, agility and strength are essential to pole vaulting effectively, but technical skill is an equally if not more important element. The object of pole vaulting is to clear a bar or crossbar supported upon two uprights (standards) without knocking it down.”

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. She's married to a saintly — and handy — fisherman, and has been stringing words together in Key West since 1998.