Did you know that the Finnish cross-country skiing legend Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, 41, also competed as a pole vault in his youth? Or that he was close to the field championship medal?

The women's pole vault was first seen at the Kaleva Games in Tuusula in 1994, when it was a show sport. There were four competitors.

Saarinen came fourth in the race with a result of 220. The result and the number of participants tell how the sport was in its infancy. The height gain for the men in the same year was 222. So without a bar.

- I remember learning to bend during the race, jump jumping. I realized that my face was too loose and I would have gotten higher with a stiffer one, Saarinen reminds Ilta-Sanomat.

He was 15 years old at the time of the race and didn’t start the pole vault until the same summer when his club buddy Hollola Athletes needed a race pair. From an early age, athletics had been the summer sport of Saarinen, who skied in the winters.

- I went to the Kaleva Games straight from the penitentiary. I had a stick with which I practiced running with a stick on the road to the campground. I got to go to the races. It was exciting and challenging, Saarinen says.

Aino-Kaisa Saarinen focused on the sticks instead of the stick. A picture of the Finnish Youth Skiing in 1997, when he was 18 years old.

Photo: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Saarinen set a record 250 months after the Kaleva Games. A year later, he jumped for the last time so far and focused on skiing. He made his World Cup debut in 1998 and won four World Championships and five Olympic medals in his career.

- The pole vault was really difficult, but nice and required courage. A violent species, Saarinen states.

Birgitta Ivanoff won the women's pole vault at the 1994 Kaleva Championships with a result of 275. Although the sport did not yet have official status, the Turku resident received a gold medal.

You can watch the winning jump on YouTube. Ivanoff could not yet turn on the bar at that time.

The jumper has since changed his surname to Schumacher and lives in Germany, where Ilta-Sanomat reached him. Schumacher remembers that the pole vault began at the Kaleva Games among the first sports of the day.

- It was exciting at the competition because I was so young, but we were well received by the people. It was a good start for the sport, Schumacher says.

Birgitta Schumacher, the pioneer of the Finnish women's pole vault, was on the edge of a sports field at the age of 15 in 1994.

Photo: Birgitta Schumacher's home album

Schumacher's father Risto Ivanoff himself was a pole vaulter himself. When it became known in 1993 that pole vaulting and hammer throwing were also becoming available to women, Ivanoff came up with the idea that her daughter could try jumping. Birgitta first tested the species in the hall in the fall of 1993. Her father trained her until the early 2000s.

- For a young person, the sport is fun and interesting. Let’s jump, strain, hang out and try to do a somersault gig in the air. Exciting, Schumacher says.

- It was also that the girls were allowed to do it! Before that, jumping was not of interest because it was not possible to do so.

Initially, operations in Finland were very small. The girls were not visible at the stakes.

- There weren't many of us. Talking about less than ten, Schumacher estimates.

In 1995-96, however, more girls began to join the sport. For adult women, getting started was an impossible idea due to the difficulty of the technology.

- We grew big in the sport. If the species was in its infancy, so were we, Schumacher says.

He achieved five more medals at the Kaleva Games in his career, the last of which came in 2001. The record was 398. Schumacher, who relied on his physics, started the sport so late that it was difficult to learn the technique.

While turning on top of the bar began to naturalize, standing up toward the sky “never came”. This skill of the last stage of the jump would have been required to cross four meters.

Schumacher saw the rapid development of the species up close. Teija Saari raised the bar to four meters already in the 90's. Minna Nikkanen, who started jumping as a child, took the sport to new heights in the 21st century and won the Kaleva Games 11 times. 22 Finnish women have crossed the four meters.

Today, the torch is carried by Wilma Murto. The Murron SE 471 sways almost two meters higher than Schumacher’s Kaleva race winning result 26 years ago.

Wilma Murto won the pole vault Finnish championship in August 2019 with a result of 426.

Photo: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

- I've seen a surge Wilma already when she was a little girl. He’s just a great guy to be a flag bearer: bright, bold and good at his output. When Wilma just stays healthy, he can achieve anything, species pioneer Schumacher praises.

The 41-year-old himself hasn’t jumped in years anymore.

- You wouldn't dare anymore when you don't know which place would fall apart. I shifted to tennis. I play with 40-year-olds in a small German village. Senior activities, Schumacher laughs.

The women’s pole vault entered the international athletics program in the second half of the 1990s. The first world record set by the International Federation of Athletics (IAAF), 405, is from 1994. In 1998, the sport entered the European Championships, a year later the World Championship arena. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Stacy Dragila was the first woman to win the pole vault Olympic gold.

According to non-fiction writer Seppo Martiskainen, the late inclusion of the species is explained by a simple dilemma. Since there were no enthusiasts, there were no competitions. And since there were no competitions, there were no enthusiasts.

-There was no reason to include the sport in the competition program. When there were a lot of enthusiasts in countries like Finland, there was pressure from the IAAF and the European Union to include the species in the name of equality. It was taken, Martiskainen says.

According to Martiskainen, talk of pole vaulting being inappropriate or dangerous for women are “ideas of the 20s” that were no longer talked about in the 90s. Saarinen and Schumacher confirm that they were not subjected to any contempt or anticipation.

-When the girls climbed the hill jumping tower, they were the first there. But in athletics, women already had other sports. If the girl moved from length to head, the difference was not big, Schumacher compares.

-We were not underestimated or treated less favorably than a 15-year-old boy jumper. When the sport became official, it was supported by the Finnish Sports Federation. There were coaches and camps. No species would have evolved to its present state if we had been mistreated.

-I felt that we young women were wanted for the Games. I was encouraged and coached. I never encountered belittling, Saarinen recalls.

Women's pole vault winning results at the Kaleva Games 1994–2019

1994 Birgitta Ivanoff 275

1995 Teija Saari 350

1996 Tiina Vilenius 370

1997 Teija Saari 390

1998 Teija Saari 401

2007 Minna Nikkanen 425

2015 Minna Nikkanen 456

2018 Wilma Murto 460

2019 Wilma Murto 426