No athlete in Rio will quite carry the weight of public expectation from 200 million Brazilians quite like Fabiana Murer.
The host nation’s most realistic chance of an athletics gold medal in Rio, the 35-year-old veteran, however, will need to be at her absolute best against a highly competitive field.
Murer won the 2011 world title and last year the vivacious vaulter secured silver at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 but despite her undoubted pedigree she will be fully aware of the task she faces to strike gold.
The Brazilian has performed inconsistently on the IAAF Diamond League circuit – failing to register a valid height in both Rome and London – but proved she is still a force to be reckoned with by adding two centimetres to her six-year-old South American record with an eye-catching 4.87m clearance in Sao Bernardo do Campo last month.
Since then, however, she picked up a cervical herniated disc at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco. “My doctor reassured me and told that I had time to recover to the Olympics,” she said last week. “I am in intense treatment with physiotherapy and training very well. I’m progressing fast and I am dedicating myself a lot to reach the Olympics 100%.”
Suhr and Morris pack strong US 1-2 punch
Should Murer fulfil her dreams in Rio, then she will have to repel the powerful US challenge led by defending Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and world outdoor leader Sandi Morris.
Suhr, who cleared 5.03m in January and secured the world indoor crown in March, has preferred a low-key outdoor season in the countdown to Rio and has competed on a mere three occasions.
However, despite her limited build-up she has an unbeaten record including winning the US title, and a season’s best of 4.82m suggests the 34-year-old is in good shape to defend her title.
After finishing tied for fourth at last year’s World Championships, Morris has emerged as the breakthrough pole vault star of 2016. Earlier this year, she leapt a massive new best of 4.95m indoors and secured the world indoor silver medal.
She suffered a major setback by breaking a bone in her wrist in May only to recover to finish second at the US Olympic Trials. In her most recent appearance, she set a US outdoor record with a world-leading 4.93m in Houston.
Stefanidi riding strong IAAF Diamond League momentum
Ekaterini Stefanidi has proved the consummate performer on the IAAF Diamond League circuit this season with four wins. The US-based Greek has also revealed her championship credentials by winning the European title, and after setting national indoor and outdoor records of 4.90m and 4.86m respectively in 2016, she will go into Rio full of confidence.
History has also taught us never to dismiss world champion Yarisley Silva. The diminutive Cuban has won a medal at each of the past three global championships and has performed consistently well on the IAAF Diamond League circuit with a season’s best 4.84m.
Pole vaulting in Oceania looks in good shape with Australia’s Alana Boyd and her New Zealand rival Eliza McCartney from across the Tasman Sea trading the regional record several times this season.
The experienced Boyd, a two-time Commonwealth champion, has preferred to prepare away from the glare of the European circuit but a recent Oceanian record of 4.81m on Australia’s Sunshine Coast suggests she can be a factor.
Aged just 19, McCartney is one of the most exciting young talents in the sport. She finished fifth at the World Indoor Championships in March just two weeks after setting a then Oceanian record of 4.80m at the New Zealand Championships.
Other potential medal contenders include Switzerland’s Nicole Buchler, Greece’s world bronze medallist Nikoleta Kyriakopoulu and the German duo of Martina Strutz and European silver medallist Lisa Ryzih, although both Buchler and Kyriakopoulou have been injured in recent weeks and face a battle to be fully fit in Rio.