Big Read: Eliza McCartney's two year plan for world domination

By David Leggat

New Zealand's Eliza McCartney celebrate Bronze during the Women's pole volt at Olympic Stadium at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo / Marty Melville
New Zealand's Eliza McCartney celebrate Bronze during the Women's pole volt at Olympic Stadium at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo / Marty Melville

Twenty centimetres. Call it the length of your largest TV remote. That's what stands between Eliza McCartney and enhancing her standing in the world of women's pole vault by scaling five metres.

It sounds relatively straightforward. McCartney's personal best, which she achieved in winning bronze at last year's Rio Olympics, is 4.80m. Not much difference right? Problem is that nice round number carries a significant psychological element to it.

It's like the difference between a batsman scoring 99 or 100. You remember the centuries, not the one shorts, and yet it shouldn't really be that way.

"Oh yes, it's a huge psychological thing," McCartney said this week.

"Four metres is another one. I remember when I first jumped 4m. It was huge - huge

Since you asked, she climbed over 4m at the Cooks Classic in Whanganui in 2013, breaking the national under-17 record.

"That's a really tough one," she said of 5m. "Only a handful of women [Russian world recordholder Yelena Isinbayeva, Americans Jenn Suhr and Rio silver medallist Sandi Morris] have ever jumped over 5m.

"Then the world record isn't too much further [5.06m]. It should be much at all. If it happens this year, amazing. If it happens next year, that's great as well.

"It's about getting out and competing and being the best I can and hopefully all the improvements we've been working on the last few months, all the training, will come through and work out well."

Time's flying by for the 20-year-old North Shore athlete, who leapt to instant celebrity status in a few minutes last August in Rio. She's discovering her anonymity has taken a hit. She took her time getting home from Rio, having some holiday time with family in South America. Her coach Jeremy McColl reckoned at the time she'd have no idea the impact her medal had back home. McCartney had an inkling but ...

"I was expecting something but really not to the level I found when I got home," she said.

"While I was away I gained an enormous number of Instagram followers, which surprised me a lot. I wasn't expecting to walk down the street and be looked at and stopped every so often.

"I didn't think people would recognise me out of context. That's the most surprising thing. It happens most days if I'm out and about.

"I've got used to it and you've got to remember that these people are so excited and loved watching you and it really is a great thing that someone is amazed by what you've achieved."

With the added fame has come opportunities in the promotional and advertising markets.

She's one of the beef and lamb athletes with high profile trio Lisa Carrington, Sophie Pascoe and Sarah Walker, and is in the latest Air New Zealand in-flight safety video. There has been the odd one she's rejected.

"I think its important you think who you are aligning with, that's it's people and companies that you agree with in their values and morals, so I've considered that with every step that comes.

"Usually it's pretty easy to work out whether you want to do it or not. It comes down to how you feel as a person. If it doesn't roll with you, you move on."

McCartney's target had been the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, until relatively late in the piece. Her progress was such that things came forward four years, to stunning effect.

She has mixed emotions about last year.

"The domestic season in New Zealand was the best I've ever done but there were parts where it became hard. I went overseas and was injured in a few places. I didn't have the best buildup, but it ended up well. It will be very hard to top the last year."

And there's the crux for McCartney. She's on an upward trajectory, has her place among the world's elite and now needs to continue to climb.

She has had a good break away from the poles - she reckons her longest break since she started the sport in her early teens - feels refreshed and is not about to start rushing into serious competition, trying to prove herself, or back up from Rio without doing the proper foundation work.

McCartney is not neglecting her studies. She's doing one paper in the first semester, towards her science degree, majoring in physiology.

"It's important to keep that up. I really enjoy it but also it's something different for your mind to focus on."

Pole vault is a deceptively complicated discipline. McCartney admits she tries to focus on just two, or possibly three elements with each jump. Otherwise it's easy to jam the thought processes.

"It takes a long time to nail everything, if you can ever nail everything. There's always things to work on in the air because of my lack of gymnastics in my childhood.

"I wasn't quick to grasp all the technical side in the air. It's really fine tuning things, which is an awesome place to be."

McCartney is training several hours, six days a week. "I love my Sundays," she quips of her day of rest.

She's looking forward to catching up with her top rivals, which probably won't happen until she gets to Europe. They might be looking at her slightly differently now too.

"I think of them as really high jumpers, and I guess I'm pretty close to them now. They're really lovely and I love competing with them, so it will be fun to get back out there with them."

Back to those 5m-plus targets.

Coach Jeremy McColl has no doubt McCartney has the ability, but he's not rushing things.

He talks of a two-year plan they have in place, which includes elements like the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next year.

"She definitely has the ability to do it, if she keeps improving the way she's been going. She's got a lot of time, that's for sure," McColl said.

The arrival of 17-year-old Olivia McTaggart adds an intriguing dynamic to the sport.

The North Shore athlete has eclipsed national under-17 mark, held by a certain E. McCartney, by a whopping 11cm, putting up a 4.22m, which was 22cm better than her own previous best. She added a further 8cm soon after to ram home her potential, and is only the fourth New Zealand woman to get to 4.30m.

She equalled McCartney's New Zealand secondary schools mark of 4.10m too.

McTaggart is in McColl's training group, too. For now, McCartney is the scene setter for the women's event in New Zealand and it's wise not to get to far ahead. But unquestionably it's an exciting time for the discipline.

National high performance boss Scott Goodman is confident that, chiefly through McColl's work, New Zealand can get several vaulters to the Gold Coast next year.

"A lot of these things are about the environment. There's a good structure there and I think we'll produce [good] pole vaulters for the next 10-12 years, to be honest."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 01 May 2017 05:24:05 Processing Time: 402ms