Hintnaus helps Hawaii pole vault renaissance

A creative shot of former Olympian Tom Hintnaus during his competitive days. Courtesy of Tom Hintnaus.
A creative shot of former Olympian Tom Hintnaus during his competitive days. Courtesy of Tom Hintnaus.

Hawaii high school pole vaulters are lucky to have a former Olympian as a coach here.

His name is Tom Hintnaus and he was there at the Punahou Relays watching a fascinating competition going on Saturday.

He is the Punahou pole vault coach, but — like any coach in a particular event – he knows a lot about and cares about not only the competitors on his Buffanblu squad but also the opponents. You can tell from his demeanor that he is truly interested in the growth of pole vaulting here.


The winner that day was Logan Rubasch of ‘Iolani, who cleared 14 feet, 6 inches. Rubasch has done 14-9 this season, but failed at 15-0 twice and 15-6 once on Saturday.

Tom Hintnaus is the Punahou pole vault coach.
Tom Hintnaus is the Punahou pole vault coach.

“Logan is a junior and he’s doing really well,” Hintnaus said. “He’s been a little inconsistent, but he should be up around 15 feet in the next couple of weeks. He’s close with our guys.”

By “our guys,” Hintnaus meant Punahou senior Nick Kapule, who has a 15-0 under his belt this season, and Buffanblu freshman J. Kai Yamafuji, whose best this season is 14-6. Both cleared 14-0 on Saturday.

Hintnaus said that many others around the state have vaulted between 13-6 and 14-0, making for a possible dramatic showdown at Keaau High School on the Big Island at the state meet May 12-13.


“We have off years and strong years (in Hawaii pole vaulting), but we’re really making a push now,” said Hintnaus, who has lived in Hawaii for about 15 years and who has coached for about 11, including stints at Kamehameha and Kaiser. “The state meet record of 15-3 was done 35 years ago.”

Punahou coach Tom Hintnaus competed in the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. Photo courtesy Tom Hintnaus.
Punahou coach Tom Hintnaus competed in the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. Photo courtesy Tom Hintnaus.

Hintnaus, who competed at the the University of Oregon, said there’s been somewhat of a relearning of technique over the years here.

“They (student-athletes collectively) seem to have forgotten a whole section of the vault,” he said. “When I first got here, it was like they just ran down and just went straight up into an upside-down position. They forgot a whole section of it, which is the drive phase. We live in a bubble here in Hawaii and everybody kind of does the same thing and they forgot about the drive phase — that you have to drive into the pit first and then you go up. So, they were kind of going straight up and straight back down. You need as much penetration as possible like a long jumper getting as far into the pit as possible — and then going up. (The Hawaii pole vaulters) have been doing it correctly and it’s starting to pay off.”


Hintnaus, whose real name is Tomas Valdemar Hintnaus, was born in Brazil, went to high school in Redondo Beach, Calif., and won the U.S. Trials in 1980. Unfortunately, the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics that year. Instead, the U.S. competed in the Olympic Boycott Games in Philadelphia, where he won gold. Hintnaus then went on to compete for Brazil, winning a bronze medal in the 1983 Pan-American games and no-heighting in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Hintnaus, whose daughter Tommi Hintnaus plays soccer at Kaiser, also gained fame as a Calvin Klein underwear model in the 1980s.

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