University of Birmingham pole vault star Nick Cruchley performed immensely at the BUCS Outdoor Athletics Championships last month, taking a gold medal after jumping a BUCS Championship record of 5.22m. Redbrick Sport writer Tom Garry caught up with the athlete to discuss the Championship success, the Olympic Games and Cruchley's hopes for his future in pole vault...
Athletes from the University of Birmingham certainly made their mark on the newly-built Olympic Stadium during the venue’s official test event last month, with the club achieving an outstanding 2nd place overall in the BUCS Outdoor Athletics Championships. One man who grabbed the headlines for Birmingham was 22-year-old Pole Vault star Nick Cruchley.
Not only did the Sports and Materials Science student win gold but in doing so he also set a new BUCS championship record, clearing a staggering height of 5.22m. Already the last man standing in the final, Cruchley raised the bar above the previous record, which had stood for 26 years, and secured his place in the history books with a flawless leap that demonstrated calm nerve under pressure as well as great natural talent.
Despite vaulting higher than any student before him at the BUCS championships, Cruchley was modest about his success. ‘I wouldn’t say I’m the best ever at this level. There are a lot of good guys around so I don’t expect that record to last forever.’ Nevertheless, to put the achievement into perspective, 5.22m would have been a world record as recently as 1964 and is just 58cm lower than the current British record.
Remarkably though, things could have been very different. ‘My abiding memory of the weekend is that I had probably the worst warm-up I’ve ever had in my life. It was awful. My coach and I were shouting at each other, trying to work out what to do because I had nothing to go on. In the end we decided to just do what I do best which is compete. Thankfully, it worked out.’
The crowd were none the wiser as Cruchley eased over the sub-5m bars whilst his rivals faltered. When asked if he was surprised that his fellow competitors hadn’t pushed him further, he said: ‘I was a little but I think the cold got to everyone. It wasn’t nice and we were out there for 3 hours or more.’
Originally from Stourbridge, Cruchley began his sporting life as a swimmer but claims to have ‘got bored’ of the pool aged 13, and followed his brother in taking up athletics. Initially a cross-country runner, Cruchley gradually progressed to shorter distances on the track before making his transition to Pole Vault aged 15.
His success since then is clearly down to a lot of hard work; his usual routine involves training six days a week but increases to as many as 16 sessions a week at times. An intense schedule by any athlete’s standards, Cruchley admits that it doesn’t leave him as much time to socialise with his Birmingham teammates as much as he would like.
After four years Cruchley has now finished his undergraduate degree, having split his final year, and now hopes to do a postgraduate degree at Birmingham, which would enable him to continue training at the nearby Halesowen Athletics Club whilst studying. ‘Realistically, Athletics isn’t going to be around for me forever. To carry on training and studying here would be the perfect scenario.’
Looking ahead to the Olympics for Team GB, Cruchley expects the media spotlight to fall on heptathlete Jessica Ennis. ‘For the British media, it’s all about Jess. They don’t want to take their eyes off her, but Chernova of Russia is going to be tough to beat so she’s not going to have it as easy as people are hoping. I think Jess is dealing with things quite well, but there’s a lot of pressure on her to get the gold medal.'
In his own event, Cruchley is tipping Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie to succeed this year but also has high hopes for his British colleagues, including former training partner Steve Lewis. ‘The British girls are really on fire. As for the guys, I’m hoping Steve will jump big. I’ve said to a lot of people that he’ll break some records.’
The current stadium record holder also knows that the atmosphere will be a lot different from the test event when it comes to the games. ‘With only a few thousand spectators for my event, it felt empty and it was a slightly weird atmosphere. It was clear to everyone it was a world-class facility though. When you walk out on to a warm up track that costs £1m, you know you’re walking into something special.’
Looking to the future, Cruchley doesn’t expect to make the Olympic qualifying height of 5.72m this year but has set his sights on competing at the upcoming European championships. A level-headed guy, Cruchley is a pleasure to watch, and with most pole vaulters reaching their peak around 28, still has time yet to improve on his BUCS success. Reflecting on BUCS Championship Gold, he said: ‘I had my moment on the podium! That was a cool experience.’ Yet if the UB Sportsperson of the Year nominee can keep up his incredible level of dedication, surely there will be more moments on the podium in the future.