On a temporarily constructed downtown runway, New Zealand's pole-vaulting sweetheart Eliza McCartney prepared to launch herself skyward ... or as close to the sky as the shopping mall's glass ceiling would allow.

Less than two metres away - far closer than McCartney or any of her rivals were used to - rubberneckers jostled for a better view, blithely unaware that they might be called upon to catch a falling athlete or dodge a shard of flying fibreglass at any moment.

Curious rush-hour commuters paused to see what all the fuss was about, before shuffling off to catch their buses and trains home.

Surely, McCartney, the surprise bronze medalist at last year's Rio de Janiero Olympics, had never performed in a more bizarre setting than Auckland's Britomart Atrium.


"It's definitely right up there, because it was such a small confined area," she beamed. "But I have jumped into the back of cafés before, so there have been some weird ones.

"To have the crowd so close and interacting and clapping with us was so awesome, and definitely kicked the adrenalin to a new level."

For McCartney and her band of fellow trapeze artists, the Vertical Pursuit pop-up pole vault was as much a chance to showcase the country's new favourite athletics event as an opportunity to strive for rankings and records.

Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney warms up for pole vault at Britomart train station. Photo/Michael Craig
Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney warms up for pole vault at Britomart train station. Photo/Michael Craig

While the giggling assassin from the North Shore has clearly captured the imagination of her fellow Kiwis, as evidenced by her "People's Choice" win at this month's Halberg Awards, very few of her new fans would have actually seen a vault event in the flesh.

"Pole vaulting is still a young sport, especially women's vault, and most New Zealanders won't have been exposed to it before or witnessed a competition, especially this close, where they can see what's going on," said McCartney.

Those that crammed into the arcade tonight would not have left disappointed.

American Morgann Leleux celebrated her opening height of 4.10m by throwing beads into the crowd, apparently a custom from her home state of Louisiana. Canadian Alysha Newman, a bronze medalist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, conquered her warm-up gremlins to dramatically scale 4.40m.

But there would only ever be one star of this show. McCartney mixed run-up indecision with easy first-up clearances at 4.30m, 4.50m, 4.60 and 4.70m, before finally bowing out at 4.80m, her current national record and the same height she cleared to medal in Rio.

Not bad, considering she is operating off a shortened run-up in the early stages of her build-up towards the European season and world championships later this year.

McCartney has another chance to challenge that national mark on Sunday, when she contests the International Track Challenge at AUT Millennium in Mairangi Bay.