Wrists, elbows, hips, knees and even the odd wisp of hair seemed to get in the way but nothing was going to stop Nick Southgate from putting the New Zealand men's indoor pole vaulting record straight in Hastings.
Pumped up to the rhythm of intoxicating electronic soundtracks and the clapping of a compact crowd, Southgate scaled 5.21m at the newly opened, swanky EIT Institute of Sport and Health indoor facilities at the HB Regional Sports Park on Wednesday.
"I wasn't expecting this much of a crowd so it just pushes us so much harder and this sort of setting is my favourite so it tends to bring the best out in us," said the 25-year-old Aucklander whose 5.20m record established at Britomart on February 22, 2017, wasn't ratified but it certainly was here after the steel doors were rolled down to ensure there was no wind assistance.
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"I had jumped 5.25 [metres] few years back but it wasn't ratified so this is, officially, an indoor record," he explained shortly after getting his breath back. "We don't really get too many chances to have a crack at it so I would have liked to done more but that's something."
His jump came in his first attempt after clearing the 5.01m mark in his third and final go.
Southgate is part of the contingent of elite pole vaulters from the Big Smoke — under the tutelage of Jeremy McColl — that is into its 10-day camp in the build up to the 21st edition of the annual Allan and Sylvia Potts Memorial Classic on Saturday.
The indoor event — with a gold-coin entry fee donation to go towards Cancer Society Hawke's Bay — provided the pole vaulters a competitive environment to eclipse records but also prepare for the impending Tokyo Olympics from July 24 to August 9 in Japan.
James Steyn and Ettiene Du Preez became catalysts for the record smasher although the latter dipped out at 4.81m and the former at the 5.01m mark.
Southgate, who works as a packer at a warehouse, said the facility here was a big drawcard and not far from a world-class one, considering there were plans to make it more expansive.
"Us pole vaulters love it down here so to have another facility like that to travel to train and hold competitions like this — we just love it."
The athletes, he says, were going through the motions of selecting the appropriate poles that suit their requirements so early in the season.
"There was a little bit of adjustment for me around that and it's only the second time I've been back to 16 steps [run up] this year in the season."
Southgate says the feel of a pole is essential to acquire the right type of energy required when making the transition from training to competition.
"When things amp up a little bit you've got to play around to see what works with a little bit of fine tuning," he explains, adding even Steyn has the height right so all they can do is keep competing and tweaking.
Southgate was unsuccessful in his three attempts to clear 5.31m but felt it was very do-able and just a case of mind over matter.
"All of us are hitting our straps and we're ready to go high," he said, singing the mantra of consistency over anxiety on making the Olympics qualifying height.
Southgate has persevered with pole vaulting for more than a decade after finding traction with it from a gymnastics background.
"It's the perfect mix of gymnastics and athletics so I love the purest form of athleticism that athletics can offer so gymnastics helps take it to a whole new other level," he said. "I really can't beat the feeling of making a great jump so it just keeps me coming back."
With Eliza McCartney rolling a video camera — perched among the front row of spectators — Imogen Ayris clinched the women's bragging rights at 4.21m in her third attempt on a countback from Olivia McTaggart but couldn't build on 4.31m to try to eclipse the Rio Olympics bronze medallist's 4.75m indoor record.
"I'm super happy," said a beaming Ayris who improved on a PB of 4.20m established two years ago. "I knew I had it in me so to put it out on the track today was very exciting."
The 19-year-old from Takapuna Amateur Athletic and Harrier Club had emulated the 16-step run up of Southgate, revealing she had also switched from shorter poles to longer ones to find better traction.
"I can manage to grip a little higher," said Ayris, feeling she had comfortably cleared the 4.31m mark but had, unfortunately, nudged the bar with her knee as she succumbed to gravity.
"I got a bit excited too early," she said with a grin before acknowledging McCartney was a "cool role model" and they were blessed to train alongside and compete against her.
Ayris said with the balmy weather outdoors, a tail wind and bigger crowds on Saturday "I'm going to fly".
"I'm super excited to compete in Hastings and my parents are coming from Auckland to watch so it should be good," she said of Bridget and Barny Ayris.
McTaggart, who hails from North Harbour Bays Athletics Inc like the rest of the athletes, had matched Ayris leap for leap and should thrive outdoors on Saturday as well.
Josh Woodhead, in just two years of pole vaulting, took the junior honours with a jump of 3.76m from fellow Athletics Hastings member Alex van Oeveren, of Havelock North High School, who had dipped out by a shave of his singlet in his last attempt at 3.65m.
An excited Woodhead, of Hastings Boys' High School, said it bode well for his future in the discipline.
The year 12-bound pupil is thriving on a couple of poles national coach Jeremy McColl has donated to replace the more than three-decade-old ones at his club.
"It lets me go higher and get more spring out of it," said Woodhead who relishes training all year round at the new facility, especially in honing the technical aspects over winter.
The 16-year-old, who is a first-year under-18 athlete, intends to be a decathlete so he's refining his pole vaulting to boost points.
"When I was younger I didn't really want to pick any one event so I thought why not try [decathlon] so I don't have to give up any of them," Woodhead said of the 10-code discipline.