Pole vault star Björn Otto can fly… literally

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Last year, no-one with a pole soared higher than Olympic silver medallist Björn Otto, who tied for seventh on the all-time list with a clearance of 6.01m in Aachen. Here, Otto tells SPIKES how he hopes to go even higher when he hangs up his poles, as a commercial airline pilot.

“I’ve had a passion for planes since the age of five or six, and I used to have planes all over my bedroom. Aged about nine or ten I had my first radio-controlled plane, which I put together with my dad.

“I later got into paragliding and in March 2013, just after the European Indoor Championships [where Otto took silver behind Renaud Lavillenie], I started attending flying school.

“My ambition is to become a commercial pilot. As you can see, I’ve always had an interest in planes, they’ve just got bigger and bigger over time!

“Even today, at my parent’s house I have three rooms where my model planes are housed. My parent’s have a big house and my dad also keeps lots of wooden furniture he is making for the house in there. We also keep a lot of machines in there for building aeroplanes and other things.” 

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No engine required: Otto competes in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, 2007

“I still compete when I can in radio-controlled aerobatic competitions. Back in 2009, I competed in the German Championships, where I finished 13th or 14th out of about 30 people. Three judges mark you for your performance. I haven’t been out so much recently because of the weather.

“I have wanted to fly planes for many years, and aged 18 I had a big decision about to whether go to flying school or pursue the pole vault. I decided to go for pole vaulting because I thought I could study flying at any age but with pole vaulting I would only have one chance.

“I decided to finally go back to flying school after I finished studying in December, I think it was a good decision. So far it has all been theoretical but in the next few weeks we will start the practical lessons.

“My friend is a pilot and I have been up in the glider with him several times. I actually think my background as a pole vaulter means I’m pretty good at understanding the technical side of flying.

“Also, my background as a paraglider and flying model planes helps me in flying school. Because I fly model airplanes I understand about aerodynamics and that is what we are learning at the moment.” 

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The flying German: Like a bird, Otto is at his happiest when he’s airborne

“Fitting in pole vault training with flying school is tricky but not impossible. I go to flying school five days a week and finish at about 3.30pm each day. Then I normally drive straight from there to start training. I actually train less than in previous years, about seven or eight times a week so I can fit it in.

“I definitely intend to compete through the summer and hope to make the team for the Moscow World Championships. At the moment I’m assessing at the end of each year whether I want to continue in the pole vault.”