One essential quality in champion athletes is the ability to turn it on at the right time.

Put Eliza McCartney in that category after she raised her personal best pole vault mark to 4.82m in winning the Auckland Track Challenge at the AUT Millennium track yesterday.

In one notable leap it gave the 20-year-old an improved national record, the Oceania record and the equal best jump this year.

Sure, the year is only two months old, but even so there's no harm in clearing your throat early so the other leading rivals know you're not going anywhere anytime soon.


McCartney was turning it on before an adoring audience of her people. She does, after all, hail from the North Shore.

The crowd had come to see the local hero, and McCartney delivered on cue.

She started with a wobble, dropping the bar at 4.55m but improved to such an extent that coach Jeremy McColl labelled her record-setting vault as ''probably the best technical jumping Eliza has ever done.

"She had the energy of the crowd, everything worked in her favour today."

McCartney has won her two events this week, vaulting 4.70m in the Vertical Pursuit event at Britomart on Wednesday, and now 4.82m, the best outdoor leap worldwide this year, and equal to the indoor mark of Olympic champion Katarina Stefanidi in New York this month.

It all bodes well for the year ahead, which culminates in the world championships in London in August.

"I'm feeling great," McCartney said.

"There's only three more competitions left for the New Zealand season, then a bit of a break then off to Europe.

"I'm hoping when I'm going to Europe I'll be at higher heights. I couldn't prepare any better if I tried. This is optimal.

"I'm definitely feel I'm heading in the right direction and really excited for the rest of the year."

McCartney has the Auckland championships this weekend, then the nationals in Hamilton on March 17-19 and the prospect of the Australian nationals in Sydney at the end of March too.

She's keen on the trip, McColl slightly more circumspect. A conversation is looming on that. McCartney's argument is she wants to jump against good quality opposition outside New Zealand. McColl leans towards treading carefully into an important year.

"Much as I love my training group, we always end up competing against each other. Australia is a good one because it's always nice competing against other people."

McCartney acknowledged she still has speed, technique and strength areas to work on.

"The benefit of being so young is you've got heaps of time to get working on all these things and keep progressing."

A year ago she set a personal best at the corresponding event. She loves the vibe, and the proximity of the spectators.

"Awesome," she said. "I really love being able to get everyone up close and involved and help teach the crowd about pole vault."

"I think this is very special. A lot of people have turned up for an athletics competition. People are recognising the sport a lot more."

And right now you can put that down in large part to McCartney.