Vault in Depth: Legend of the Vaulter

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be discussing various aspects of vault. We’ll start by looking at the various components of a vault.

The anatomy of a good vault mirrors, to some extent, the anatomy of a good narrative. So, in the interest of keeping myself and my readers entertained, I will explore the vault as a great tale of a hero’s quest.

Run: Our story begins, and our characters are introduced: we have our hero (the gymnast), her journey (the runway), her special weapon (the springboard), and her arch-nemesis (gravity). Our hero sets out on her quest…

This part is pretty self-explanatory. There are two things the gymnast must accomplish in this phase. First, she must maximize her speed, particularly at the end of the run. Second, she must arrange her steps in such a way as to put her the proper distance from the board as she reaches the end of the run, allowing her to correctly perform the next phase.

Board Entry: Our hero sees her nemesis, and it is quite formidable. She cannot possibly defeat it equipped as she is, so she must acquire a weapon capable of vanquishing her nemesis. Fortunately, she comes across a great and legendary weapon, the springboard; now, she must seize that weapon for herself.

This is the transition between the run and the board contact. The entry will consist of either a hurdle to the board or a hurdle followed by a roundoff to land on the board (technically, upper-level female gymnasts can also perform a front handspring to land on the board as well; however this entry is a fairly recent addition to the Code of Points and remains very rare in competition). This is arguably the most crucial part of the vault. This is to vault what a roundoff is to back tumbling on floor – it is the most crucial part that will determine how much power the gymnast has available for the rest of the vault, and the part that takes the most work to perfect. This is true whether the entry consists of a hurdle or a roundoff (or, I’d imagine, a front handspring).

Board Contact (PUNCH!): The hero acquires the weapon and prepares to take on her nemesis!

Again, this part is pretty self-explanatory. The gymnast should simply attempt to get as much power as possible from the springboard while ensuring the correct rotation and trajectory for…

Preflight: Our hero enters the lair of the nemesis with grim determination. There’s no turning back now.

This is the transition during which the gymnast is briefly airborne between the board and the table. The quicker, the better – a short, fast preflight will translate into a more powerful postflight. (Though the terms “preflight” and “postflight” are, as Just Another Opinion pointed out, misnomers).

Table Contact (BLOCK!): Our hero and our nemesis prepare for battle! Perhaps they exchange a few witty remarks, or perhaps they simply look each other in the eye and draw their weapons.

As the gymnast’s hands contact the table, she pushes through the shoulders while (usually) snapping the feet over top. The goal in this phase is to generate the maximum possible amplitude for….

Postflight: This is it: the final climactic battle. Everything our hero has done to this point has been to prepare for this moment. She must face the nemesis alone; all she has is her own courage, training, and determination. Should those fail, there will be no deus ex machina.

Everything the gymnast has done up to now has been to set up for this phase. Once the gymnast’s hands leave the table, there is nothing she can do to add height, distance, or rotational momentum; she must make the optimum use of her available momentum to perform whatever saltos and/or twists she wishes to do before…

Landing: Our hero is victorious! She has accomplished her goal and survived her battle with her nemesis. The nemesis has been pushed back; however, it remains alive (very important to leave the nemesis alive; after all, if we get filthy rich from selling this narrative, we want to be able to write a sequel, right?)

The gymnast completes the postflight and, as her feet contact the landing mat, she bends at the knees, hips, and ankles in order absorb all momentum, allowing her to stick. Because it involves so much speed and power, vault is arguably one of the hardest events to stick – however, a stuck landing creates a stunning visual impact!

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