This is the last piece on the pole vault, in this series by Stuart Weir, about the status of the pole vault.
Women’s pole-vault – present and future
“I won’t retire I will just stop getting paid to vault”.
In my final article from the recent excellent 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 the three athletes reflected on the state of women’s pole-vaulting and shared their own future plans
The state of the discipline
Katerina as always had a fascinating, analytical approach: “I think Doha was an outlier. Sidorova has jumped 4.95 again indoors and Sandi has gone higher than she did in Doha but I think overall it was an outlier for so many women to be jumping over that height – 12 women over 4.70*. I think it was because, if you excuse the expression, it was indoors on steroids. We had indoor conditions but with a perfect little tailwind. There may never be a competition with conditions as good as that again.
“But thinking about future championships I think more women will jump those heights. In Doha we had four girls over 5.80 but in future you might see six or seven so your misses will really matter. But I think the 5.85 or 5.90 will continue to get medals for a few years to come as you have to take the conditions into account. And also take into account that at a championship you’ve done a prelim a couple of days earlier and that extra stress which will help some people but hurt others. So while I think Doha was incredible I think considering all that, it was a bit of an outlier”.
Katie added: “Because the sport is so young, I think we will see a surge. And there are now several young women who are capable of jumping world record heights – whereas five years ago it was perhaps one or two. I think when the next person who jumps 5m, there could be several women in the current group doing it and then more in the years to come. When I started they were very few women doing pole vault because of it was new but now with so many more girls doing it. You see high school records growing exponentially or certainly increasing a lot over five years. And I think that will lead to these talented girls coming up to the elite level and pushing heights even higher. It may be that will mean more outlier years like 2019 or we may have five-meter battles but I think we’re probably a little bit away from that”.
Moving on to their own future plans and how much longer they would stay in the sport, all three admitted that their plans had been a bit confused by the postponement of the 2020 Olympics and the 2021 World Championships and the consequent squeezing of so many events into the three years between Tokyo and Paris. There was also a need for clarity as to what “retiring” meant.
Holly explained: “I have been quite open, saying that I’ve wanted to be a mother longer than I’ve wanted to be a pole vaulter. But being female in the relationship is difficult. I’m sure that had it been the other way round we would’ve had kids by now. At the moment I am the healthiest I’ve ever been. I almost feel that recovering from the injuries has kept my body young. I feel I’m coming into my prime but the same time I turn 30 this year. I want to start a family but I’m definitely going to Tokyo and Eugene. And being British means that in 2022 in the six week. I have the worlds, Commonwealth and the European. I definitely want to do that. So I will get to 2022 and take it from there”.
Katie also admitted to be still navigating the new timetable: “My plan was that I was definitely going to go through to 2021 because the World Championships are in Eugene – now 2022. After that I feel I have to take it year by year and see how my body is feeling and see how much I am enjoying it. But now that there will be only three years between Olympics 2021-24 makes me want to go through to Paris. Three years instead of four doesn’t sound like much but it is. But when the time comes to call it a day, probably 2024, I do know that I want a family and will want to move on to the next thing at some point”.
Katerina shared the confusion of mind: “If you had asked me a year and a half ago I would have had a very different plan. No one would have predicted a pandemic to change our plans. I had always thought of Tokyo and then Eugene but then there’s the Europeans in Munich and I can’t miss that. For Paris 2024 I will only be 34. I don’t know about after that because it seems that every year there’s more rehab that needs to happen. If you think about starting with 100 coins in practice it seems that every year one more goes from practice into rehab. You don’t have as much energy. You can’t expect to do the same amount of practice and stay as healthy as you get older. But of course you can have one bad year health-wise and then come back stronger or even experience that the rehab you did last year is working for you this year. For me the whole thing is easy – I don’t mean jumping 4.90 is easy – but these are my fun days and I enjoy it. Perhaps I will continue doing it to 38 like Jenn Suhr or even into my forties!”
Katerina added a suggestion that even in her forties, she might not stop, saying: “Even when I retire, I won’t retire I will just stop getting paid for it”. That prompted a response from Katie: “I am definitely different from Kat because when I’m done, I will be done. I love pole vault but it is stressful for me and I have to come in every day and mentally get ready to go. I will not be a mom who is pole vaulting because I will want to invest everything into my family and my kids. The thought of pole vaulting and having kids would make my head explode. I know that when I’m done, I will be done. I would love to coach and stay involved”.
I am so grateful to England Athletics for putting the webinar on. Having Scott’s skilled moderation added immensely to the outcome because of his deep knowledge of the event and the trust that the athletes clearly had in him. The relationship between the three athletes was striking. Of course, they are rivals and fiercely competitive but they come across as people who respect and care for each other. More than that they come across as athletes who care a great deal for their sport. Thank you Katerina, Holly and Katie for your warmth, wisdom and honesty.
Finally if I may add a personal reflection, knowing the three athletes a bit and having spoken to all three on several occasions, my experience is that the honesty and thoughtfulness in the webinar is genuine and anyone approaching them at a meet will get the same friendly and open response.
2019 World Championship
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