Eliza McCartney - The face of New Zealand's athletic future

By David Leggat

Eliza Mccartney of New Zealand celebrates winning bronze in the Women's Pole Vault Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images.
Eliza Mccartney of New Zealand celebrates winning bronze in the Women's Pole Vault Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images.

Eliza McCartney, the pole vault world at her feet, will soon be reaching for the stars.

The world record stands at 5.06 metres, set by two-time Olympic champion Russian Yelena Isinbayeva in 2009 at Zurich. McCartney's personal best, which she matched in winning bronze at Rio last weekend, is 4.80m.

However her coach Jeremy McColl is adamant the 19-year-old from the North Shore has the world record in her.

"We've already talked about it. It is something she's capable of doing," McColl said.

"She's on a steep learning curve in terms of her development, but it's definitely down the pipeline."

The swirl of interest around the teenage jumper continues. The international Vaulter magazine has claimed that a video of one of her Rio jumps on their Instagram account has been viewed more than one million times.

"Wow!" it added.

McColl insists McCartney's Rio result hasn't adjusted their thinking about what the next few years hold. She was always targeting the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, before her rapid rate of progress demanded they shorten their focus to Rio, with a spectacular return.

"No it hasn't changed anything at all," McColl said. "We have a two-year and a four-year plan. I know what Eliza's potential is. She definitely has potential to jump over 5m in the next year or two."

That said, McColl believes women's pole vault is about to enter a fascinating stage.

Gold medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece is 26, American silver medallist Sandi Morris is 24. Britain's Holly Bradshaw was fifth in Rio. She's 24, while world champion Yarisley Silva of Cuba is still only 29 and finished seventh.

"Women's pole vault is changing rapidly and I believe Eliza, with some of these top girls will start pushing potentially more than 5m in the future. Tokyo (in 2020) is going to be one heck of a competition with the quality coming through."

McCartney was one of a four-pronged Olympic medal haul for athletics in Rio, along with shot putters Val Adams (silver) and Tom Walsh (bronze) and ageless veteran Nick Willis (bronze) in the 1500m.

Athletics New Zealand are determined to make the most of the sudden rise in interest in athletics, in which McCartney shapes as the face of the future. There's no doubt there's a buzz about the sport right now.

"We are front of mind with New Zealanders. We're having calls from clubs saying 'how can we get more poles' because we've got kids signing up and wanting to do pole vault," ANZ chief executive Linda Hamersley said yesterday.

Later this year, athletics, along with all major sports, will meet High Performance Sport New Zealand to talk funding for the next four-year Olympic cycle. There are three tier one sports, cycling, rowing and sailing. Athletics feels it is well positioned to make that four.

"We are confident," Hamersley said of their prospects of a jump in financial support, which can come in a range of ways, from overarching support, to campaign and individual athlete funding.

"We're doing everything we have to do. We've talked about becoming a tier one sport for the last couple of years. Part of that is consistent multiple medals. Certainly we're presenting a good strong case to HPSNZ.

"Rio was not a blip on the radar, just proof we've got a really good, strong high performance programme in place."

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