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Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney returns to former school, inspires kids

Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney brought joy to hundreds of kids' faces this morning at a special visit to her old intermediate school.

The 19-year-old pole vaulter has been rushing around Auckland since arriving back early this morning from Rio where her underdog bronze medal win in the women's pole vaulting event launched her profile back in New Zealand.

She turned up to Belmont Intermediate on Auckland's North Shore about 9am, much to the surprise of the pupils, who weren't told she would be visiting.

The pupils clapped and gasped in awe as McCartney walked in from the back of the school hall, beaming and waving, with her medal swung around her neck.

A video of McCartney's medal-winning jump was shown in the assembly, along with a video of her training, and a photo of her in art class when she was a pupil at Belmont.

"They're really cute. They mostly just want to see the medal and get a high five."
Eliza McCartney on the pupils

The young Olympian told pupils of her surprise and joy at having placed high enough to win a medal in Rio.

"It wasn't part of the plan, but it wasn't a bad thing," she said, laughing.

McCartney recalled the disbelief at realising she'd won after another athlete failed to clear the bar in the face-off for bronze.

"I realised I'd won a medal at the Olympic games and that was just..."

Being a relatively new athlete at the games meant part of her focus for Rio was about enjoying herself while she was there, McCartney said.

"I wanted to do well and that didn't take away from that but I was also enjoying [my time]."

McCartney joined in singing the national anthem, as well as the school song, which hadn't changed since she was at Belmont.

After the assembly, she was swarmed by pupils wanting to congratulate her, see her medal and get a high five.

Eliza McCartney giving high fives to Belmont Intermediate School pupils. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Eliza McCartney giving high fives to Belmont Intermediate School pupils. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Belmont pupil Connor Cunningham, 12, told the Herald he thought McCartney was "really inspiring".

"We measured how high she jumped - it was about three people, which must've been pretty scary to jump over.

"I didn't know she'd gone here. In a few years, one of us could be doing something cool like she has."

Pupil Rachel An, 13, had no idea McCartney was coming to the school this morning.

"It was really, really cool. She's amazing. I'd heard from others that she'd gone to Belmont. It's pretty amazing she got a medal, especially at such a young age."

But Jack Clough, 12, said he'd seen on the morning news she was coming and got really excited.

"I was so excited when I found out she was coming. I didn't tell any of my friends, I just asked them if they'd seen the news and not many had.

"It's mad! It's really cool seeing how far she's gone coming from our school. She seems really laid back and chilled, which is quite cool."

After the assembly, McCartney told the Herald it was "quite funny" returning to her old school.

"Singing the school song, I was quite surprised how much I remembered. It's been really cool seeing how excited the kids are about Kiwi athletes.

"They're really cute. They mostly just want to see the medal and get a high five."

McCartney loved playing lots of different sports when she was at Belmont and encouraged students to do the same.

"That's what intermediate is all about. You shouldn't settle on something too soon, give everything a go."

McCartney said she was looking forward to spending time at home, relaxing and catching up with family and friends.

As a child McCartney also attended Vauxhall Primary school on the North Shore, where she was school mates with Kiwi pop sensation Lorde.

McCartney's personal best, which she matched in her winning jump, is 4.80m. The world record is 5.06m and McCartney's coach Jeremy McColl has said he thinks she'll be clearing 5m within the next few years.

- NZ Herald

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