Stuart Weir wrote this feature for the World Athletics Fair Play Award. This year, WA gave the awards to Katie Nageotte and Holly Bradshaw. The back story and the significance of WA picking these two amazing pole vaulters should not be underestimated.
Katie Nageotte won gold medals in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 World Athletics Championships. Holly Bradshaw won the bronze medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and was injured just as she warmed up prior to the qualifying at Eugene 2022. Holly was attacked on social media, and Katie Nageotte defended her friend on social media.
World Athletics Fair Play Award
My initial thinking on hearing of the award of the World Athletics Fair Play Award to Katie Nageotte and Holly Bradshaw was that it could not have gone to two nicer people. The World Athletics statement said: “In Oregon, Bradshaw injured herself after her pole snapped during the pole vault warm-up session. Her fellow competitor Nageotte immediately went over to support her. Knowing she would no longer be able to contend for a place in the final, Bradshaw withdrew from the competition, thus allowing another athlete to advance. Bradshaw received a lot of abuse on social media for withdrawing, but Nageotte again offered support by taking to Twitter in defense of her competitor”.
Such an honour to win this alongside one of my closest friends @ktnago13 ❤️
Hopefully our genuine relationship shows being nice and being competitive is totally achievable 🤩
— Holly Bradshaw (@HollyBradshawPV) December 2, 2022
The award is based on fan votes for the moment that best exemplified fair play during the World Athletics Championships Oregon22. Katie Nageotte explained: “I wanted to address those negative comments online because, first of all, Holly is the toughest athlete I’ve ever met. For her to pull out of a competition, especially a World Championships, no one would ever just do that.
“It’s also ignorance around our sport. It’s kind of insulting to the sport as a whole when people say: ‘oh, she only fell 2ft; she’s really milking it. When you break a pole, it would be like taking a metal baseball bat and hitting it against a metal pole as hard as you can. I’ve seen so many injuries from it, so if nothing else, I want to teach people about the sport”.
Bradshaw added: “No one should be expected to understand [everything about the pole vault], but it’s just realizing that what you are saying at home and posting online really affects a person. Putting it online and in the domain does so much damage. It is very important for Katie to stand up and speak out about it.”
On the significance of this recognition, Nageotte added: “This award is so important for the next generation because I have always wanted to show that you can be a fierce competitor and phenomenal at what you do and still be a good person. It’s more important for me to be remembered as a decent human being than a good athlete, and if I can have both of those, then that’s great.
“I am happy that I could be a part of this, to show people that you can be a good person and that kindness is what we need more of going forward in this world. If I could show a little bit of that, I’m really happy, and to share it with Holly is pretty awesome.”
The two athletes are friends, which caused an interesting dynamic when they were going head to head for the Olympic gold in Tokyo. The friendship helped them deal with the tension, as Katie told me: “When we’d finished warmups, and we’re going to have to wait a bit, Holly walked over and said ‘you want to sit at the back of the runway and chat’. And I said, ‘yes, that will be great and keep us at ease. Obviously, in an Olympic final, there is not as much of chit-chat because we very much stay in our lanes and stay focused. Holly had a great day, and I was so happy for her. I’d hoped it would be the two of us, and I would’ve loved for Sandi to be there too.
When there were only three left in the competition with a medal assured and only the color to be decided, the dynamic changed somewhat: “Once I knew that both of us were on the podium”, Katie explained, “I actually walked up to Holly and said ‘we did it. Holly said, ‘it’s not over yet, but I think at that moment, knowing we were both on the podium and having found my jump again, just let me relax and have fun. I had sometimes said that in my dream world, we would both be up there”.
After the accident in Oregon, Holly attempted to compete in the Commonwealth Games two weeks later, but her body was not ready, and she withdrew. No doubt she was desperately disappointed not to have the chance to compete in home games, but she still was gracious in the mixed zone. When I mentioned this to her, she replied: “It’s just my personality. A lot of people would just want to get out of there and forget it, and I don’t blame them. But it’s not hard for me to stand there, be honest, and be myself. And a couple of minutes out of my day to speak to the media doesn’t seem that much to ask for. It’s just the person I am”.
As I said, you could hope to meet two of the nicest people in the sport.