Stuart Weir did this piece on Katerina Stefanidi, not only an amazing athlete, but a superb interview!
Katerina Stefanidi is one of my favorite of athletes! Not just because she is one of the greatest pole-vaulters ever – 2016 Olympic champion, 2017 World Champion etc. She is accessible, always willing to talk after a competition. But beyond that, she is thoughtful giving insightful answers. She also has this gift, that even if you are the 10th journalist she’s had to talk to in the previous hour, she makes you feel that you’re the only person in the world she wants to speak to.
The first time I remember talking to her was that an indoor events in Glasgow 2018. An example of how she gives you “value for money” in an interview was when I asked her if she preferred to jump indoors or outdoors, a question to which it is quite reasonable to give a one word answer. She explained to me that it depended to some extent on the runway because sometimes “they can be too bouncy and they ruin my rhythm”. She then explained further why she preferred outdoor competition: “I think outdoor competition gives me an edge because I am a very consistent vaulter. So whatever the conditions I will jump about the same. I think conditions affect other athletes more”. You will hear the word consistency again during this series on women’s pole-vault. It is a Stefanidi mantra.
Just over a year later I talked to her in Birmingham at the Diamond League when the wind was so strong that they had to tie the bar and hold it in position. That day, more than once she had to abort a vault as the wind blew the bar off. She confirmed that it was disconcerting to be worrying about whether the bar might fall off, adding: “that is why I decided to stop at 4.85. I think I am already a little bit scared of the bar. They were putting string round it – I have never had that happened before – so that they can hold it in the wind. And I thought what if I get tangled in the bar if they are not letting it fall? I just thought it is not worth the risk of injury”. When I asked if she was frustrated by the wind, she shrugged her shoulders, said it was always windy in Birmingham and you had to get on with it. The consummate professional.
This is all a rather long introduction to a series of articles I’m going to write on women’s pole vault. I had the privilege of participating in a webinar put on by English Athletics, moderated by Scott Simpson, GB National Performance Institute Senior Coach, and featuring Katerina Stefanidi, Holly Bradshaw and Katie Nageotte. It was an outstanding event in which the athletes talked honestly about their journey to reach elite status training, strengths and weaknesses, the relationship with their coach, dealing with nerves, approaches to major championships and how to progress to the next level.
Katerina has been pole-vaulting since she was 10 and knew quite soon that it was something she wanted to do long-term.
She explains: “the idea of being Olympic champion, World champion, European champion was my big goal and my dream from a very early age. Even at 12 years old when I was crossing the road, I would say ‘you need to be careful because if you get hit by a car, how can you be world champion and break the world record’. But a 12-year-old doesn’t think that way. My coach and my parents at the time pushed me that way and that’s probably why I care so much more about gold medals right now it than I do about records. I think that gives you an idea of how important winning championships is for me”.
After studying at Stanford where she worked with Kris Mack, Edrick Floreal and Nick Hysong (2000 Olympic Champion), she met her current coach and husband, Mitch. “We were training together and had a similar technical background. In 2015 we decided to move to Ohio and that he would coach me and since then things have gone pretty well”.
I suppose you could call winning the Olympics, the World Championship, the World Indoors and the European Championship as things having gone pretty well!
Finally, two quotes from the webinar which tell you a lot about Katerina: “Even when I retire, I won’t retire I will just stop getting paid for it”.
“You learn so much more from your bad days. That is when you become a better pole-vaulter”.
You can watch the webinar videos on https://athleticshub.co.uk