Kiwi pole vaulter Eliza McCartney has finished fifth at the world indoor track and field championships in Oregon, her first major international meet at elite level.
The 19-year-old Aucklander cleared her opening height of 4.50m, opted out at 4.60m and incurred one blip before clearing 4.70m. She skipped at 4.75m and was eliminated attempting her outdoor personal best of 4.80m, set at this month’s New Zealand national championships.
Having qualified for the Rio Olympics, McCartney grew in confidence grew as competitors exited from 4.35m onwards. Five athletes were left after 4.70m.
her hands blackened with adhesive, McCartney grappled to grip the pole in her three final attempts, but finished with a wan smile as the bar dropped on her opening 2016 gambit.
Previous world indoor and outdoor champion Yarisley Silva of Cuba was absent from today’s competition, as were all Russian vaulters due to the country’s current world governing body ban for state-sanctioned doping.
McCartney earned a junior world championship bronze medal in 2014 at Oregon and took silver at last year’s World University Games in Korea.
She’s the person to befriend if you’ve got a moat to cross or a fortress to breach. Her career prospects are rising as fast as she does when planting her pole in the vicinity of the foam mats.
McCartney eclipsed her own national record and set a new Oceania mark in Dunedin this month when she cleared 4.80m.
“I couldn’t ask for a better build-up to the world indoors and Rio with these competitions,” McCartney said at the time.
“These heights are what I want. It makes medalling [at the Olympics] look realistic.”
The attempt was also the best vault of any woman in outdoor competition this year.
Rio will be just the fifth time women’s pole vault has featured at the Olympics. The only other New Zealand woman to be selected in the discipline was Melina Hamilton in Athens in 2004.
McCartney remains, to some degree, a pioneer in a sport requiring the finesse of a gymnast and power of a sprinter. She was a useful high jumper at high school before being introduced to pole vaulting at North Harbour Bays club nights.
She credits Jeremy McColl, who coaches a vaulting development squad at the Millennium Institute on Auckland’s North Shore, for a lot of her success.
McColl has been known to personally pay for carbon fibre poles to keep his athletes internationally competitive, and even built a downhill runway at the Millennium Institute to allow athletes to train at higher volume.