Pole vaulters are a special breed of athletes. And Finland’s teen prodigy Wilma Murto is extra special.
We couldn’t help but think about the following poem by Erich Fried when listening to Wilma Murto speak about the pole vault:
Replace ‘love’ with ‘pole vault’ and the poem turns into Murto’s answer to what she likes about her event: “If you try to make sense of it, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s riskier, it’s so much more risky than any other event in track and field.
“I think it’s more fun because it’s a little riskier. It takes a person who likes the risk and likes that dangerous element.
“If you’re afraid, it makes your jump a lot harder. If you’re even a little insecure, it’s not going to be as good. You have to have trust in yourself. It’s more dangerous if you’re afraid.”
She is right. Broken poles and fractured bones are a regular occurrence on the international pole vault circuit. Luckily, the 18-year-old has never snapped a pole in her life. In fact, it was injury troubles in other events that saw her end up with the pole vault in the first place.
Murto started athletics at the age of four. Aged nine her mother encouraged her to have a shot at the pole vault after she’d been on a coaching course with Murto’s current trainer Jarno Koivunen.
“I did some sprints, some high jump, but I think I’m a little prone to accidents, so high jump isn’t the best for my feet,” explains Murto. Little by little she dropped the other events.
Mother Murto’s hunch of her daughter’s potential in the pole vault proved right. In 2014, aged just 16, she competed at the World U20 Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Last year she cleared an outright world U20 best of 4.71m in Zweibrucken, Germany in January. Her outdoor PB followed in Turku, Finland with 4.52m in June.
In July, despite being one of the youngest in the field, she entered the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz as one of the favourites. She finished third with 4.40m, Switzerland’s Angelica Moser took gold in 4.55m. Murto went on to compete at the Olympics in August and finished 24th in qualifying. At the time, she was disappointed, but since has found a different outlook on her 2016 season.
“If I think back now, it was very good,” she reflects.
“It wasn’t perfect, but nothing is perfect. I didn’t wish for bronze in Poland, but all together I think it was good the way it was – I learnt more. It was much more experience for the future that way.”
And experience – especially outdoors – is one of the key ingredients the 18-year-old is still lacking. Because she is still in high school in Turku, Murto spends all of her winter in Finland training indoors, while most of her international competition heads off to warmer climates.
Rather than making excuses, however, she focuses on improving “everything” about her vaulting. Technically “pretty strong” for her age, she has “a lot to catch up with” physically in order to reach consistent heights.
“I think because I’m tall, everything takes more time – to build strength in the body,” she explains. This past indoor season she vaulted an U20 WL 4.66m in Tignes, France. Now she is determined to carry those heights outdoors. Consistency is the objective for now, then the medals will follow.
“I haven’t really thought about the world championships, because for now I don’t think to get all the medals is the main thing to focus on. I have years to do that.
“Of course, if everything goes well and training goes well in the spring, why not go as high as I can in London? Also, I have the European Junior Championships, so that might be the main goal. I guess I could say I want the gold medal there, so that’s the one I can say for sure.”
The other thing Murto is sure about is her future in the sport. She still has another year left in high school and while she doesn’t “have any plans academic-wise” yet, her future on the track is safe.
“I know I want to do athletics and pole vault. Pole vaulters are a very close community and I think that’s one of the greatest things about the event.”
Words: Michelle Sammet