Jeremy McColl is the obsessive pole vault boffin taking on the world.
Eliza McCartney is proof that McColl, who believes pole vaulting can be the next big thing in New Zealand sport, is not so crazy.
The 19-year-old McCartney, who lives with her parents and two younger brothers in Devonport, catapulted into the headlines last weekend when she broke the four-year-old junior world record at Mt Smart and qualified for next year’s Rio Olympics in the process. Her great leap forward had been brewing, but for most of us a star was born right then.
McCartney was 13, a high jumper who also had ambitions of becoming a netball international, when she followed a friend to a training session held by McColl at North Harbour’s Millennium Stadium. Her progress has been stunning, and a young woman with sights on medical school will instead operate in the sports field while satisfying her academic side via part-time pursuit of a physiology degree.
“I did think ‘wow, we might have something here’,” says McColl, recalling McCartney’s early pole vault attempts.
“One of the big advantages is her height and the power she can transfer. Right from the beginning, she had great feel and body awareness, and that great high jumper’s take off.
“I’ve had heaps of athletes who had the talent but she can train really hard and follow a programme. She is the full package, physically and mentally.
“She has that rare gift of being able to channel all that adrenaline and focus. The weekend was a good example, where it came down to one last jump and she was able to nail it when it mattered.”
McCartney had handy genes for pole vaulting. Her mum Donna Marshall, a GP, was a gymnast. Her dad, William McCartney, a lawyer, was a high jumper.
“I remember the first time I bent a pole and it was a weird feeling,” McCartney says. “There is nothing quite like it. I felt a bit out of control but I really enjoyed it and kept going.
“From the beginning, Jeremy has taught me the right techniques. I am also very competitive, but I suppose all sportspeople tell you that.
“I work very hard. I put a lot into my academic side and get good grades. I’ve always been independent, happy to do my own thing.”