Let’s call it the Eliza Effect.

Suddenly, within days of the curtain coming down on the Rio Olympics, pole vault has become a hot ticket around New Zealand.

People are now queuing up for a piece of an athletics discipline once thought of as the realm for track and field nerds.

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It’s all thanks to one young woman, charismatic North Shore 19-year-old Eliza McCartney, who put pole vaulting on the map in New Zealand with arguably the most unexpected and joyous of the record 18 medals the Kiwi team brought back from Rio.

It was just a bronze. Yet so much more than a minor medal.

That it came from a relatively unheralded teen who a year ago didn’t even have Rio on her radar captivated the country. We all love a great underdog tale, and McCartney’s transformation lived up to that of her namesake from Pygmalion.

That the young woman exuded an unrestrained glee and easygoing approach to the big moments made it even better, and when she executed that succession of first-attempt clearances with such technical excellence, a nation came along for the ride.

It was as though, for the first time, New Zealand was discovering the sheer beauty of pole vault, which is a stunning mix of athletic explosion and aerial ballet.

 

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