Ordinarily, for an 18-year-old girl stepping into her first Olympics, it would be an overwhelming moment of awe and splendour. While there might be some of those emotions for Liz Parnov, there is also a sense of expectation, of a teenager stepping through the natural process of life, such as getting her driver’s licence.
Parnov has seemed almost pre-ordained to do this — born to pole vault and to be an Olympian. Some athletes find their way to their sport, for others the sport seeks them out — but for those like Parnov, it’s a natural meeting.
Parnov was born to pole vault. Her father, sisters and aunt were all pole-vaulters. Her grandmother, too, was an Olympian. Her sporting trajectory, it seemed, had been set from a young age.
Parnov is the niece of Tatiana Grigorieva, the glamorous Russian emigree pole vaulter who won silver for Australia in Sydney. Her father, Alex, was a champion pole vaulter in Russia before bringing the family to Australia when Liz was two. He is Steve Hooker’s coach and trains his two daughters, Liz and Vicky, at home in Perth.
Vicky Parnov, the older of the two sisters, is the reigning national pole vault champion but did not qualify for this year’s Olympics while grandmother, Natalya Pechonkina, won bronze for Russia in the women’s 400 metres in 1984.
Two weeks shy of her 16th birthday, Liz Parnov became Australia’s national pole vault champion. At the first world youth games, she carried the flag for Australia and came home with a silver medal. And just two weeks ago she won silver at the world junior championships in Barcelona.
All of which seems to make the idea of achievement and progression appear a simple matter of growing up and it will happen. But even for those genetically and environmentally inclined to the sport, success is an elusive thing.
A little over a month ago, heading into the world junior championships, she suffered a small tear to her muscle at the top of her take-off leg.
“That was really frightening for me and scary considering I had my world junior championships in 21 days after that and the Olympics, of course,” she said.
An aggressive treatment plan followed and she was able to nurse the leg through the championships, trying to do as few jumps as possible. She still won silver. Olympic games were next. Suddenly everything felt better.
“So I am here and I am better and I am getting there,” she said. “I think I was quite lucky to have the Olympics in front of me because it [the world junior championships] was like a stepping stone and a learning experience to the Olympics.
“It feels like if it [injury] happens [again], it happens. I am not beating myself up over it. If I didn’t go to the worlds I would definitely be more nervous now. I definitely want to make the final but making the final is probably going to need a PB so that would be the goal and once you are in a final, anything could happen.”
by: Michael Gleeson