Liz Parnov's world, as she knew it, came crashing down when she landed awkwardly while training in Perth in April 2016.

Pole vaulter Parnov had broken her leg and with that went her hopes of Rio Olympics glory while a then virtually unknown Kiwi teenager, Eliza McCartney, had become the darling of the games after winning a bronze medal.

"What she did I think was incredible, not just for young girls - because she was so young when she got that medal - in just New Zealand but she put us on the grid as well," says the 24-year-old London Olympian who will compete alongside McCartney at the annual Allan and Sylvia Potts Memorial Classic in Hastings this afternoon.

"That was really incredible of her so she's a great sportsperson and an awesome chick," says Parnov of her 21-year-old Auckland rival who is making her first competitive appearance of the season after recuperating from a niggling tendon injury she picked up in Europe last winter.


Classic organiser Richard Potts yesterday confirmed New Zealand's top two women discus throwers, Siositina Hakeai and Te Rina Keenan, also had entered for the meet at the HB Regional Sports Park, which offers athletes in some events trails to qualify for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games to be staged from April 4-15.

Parnov says the pole-vaulting community in Australia and New Zealand is a tight-knit one and they were only training together a fortnight ago in her country.

The two-time senior women's Australian pole vaulting champion says the broken leg, in hindsight, was a bitter-sweet experience.

"It was pretty devastating at the time because it was April and we had just had our national trials and I had come away with a silver medal and I was pretty much in the team.

"When it happened it kind of put my world upside down. It was one of those things that either makes or breaks someone so I managed to turn it into a positive and jump back on the horse to have a really good season last year."

Eliza McCartney was a spectator at the Vaulters in the Bay in Hastings this week but she'll compete in the Potts Classic meet today. Photo/Duncan Brown
Eliza McCartney was a spectator at the Vaulters in the Bay in Hastings this week but she'll compete in the Potts Classic meet today. Photo/Duncan Brown

In some respects, Parnov says the injury has rejuvenated her love for the sport.

It has taught her that sport has a use-by date and in the blink of an eye an injury can curtail it further.

"That's why I have to make the most of any opportunities that come around, that's for sure."

In her first trip to New Zealand she is hanging out for a PB when her pole vaulting starts at 5pm today.

"I've just got back to a full run so I'm looking to time my jumps, seeing what New Zealand's about and having some competition with the girls but, the ultimate goal is, of course, to jump as high as I can."

Parnov has a PB of 4.51m established in March last year after missing out on Rio.

"I'll take it in centimetres if I can, I'll take anything because a PB is a PB," she says with a laugh.

She has already made her A standard jump and is looking to make her mark in the top three back home at the trails next month.

"I'm just building up to one thing now and my biggest goal is [2020] Tokyo [Olympics]," says the fulltime athlete whose potential as a model has been established in Australia but is on the backburner for now.

"Once I finish I'll look into it and be more proactive on that side [modelling] because all my time and energy is going into training in pole vault."

She's also midway through a media and communications degree and that is on a similar status to modelling.

Parnov and fellow Aussie male pole vaulter Declan Carruthers arrived here with her father/coach, Alex, on Thursday and didn't waste time going to the tracks to engage in some light workout and watch the emerging Kiwi talent compete in the Vaulters at the Bay. The trails marked the end of the Waimaramara-based, week-long clinic top Kiwi coach Jeremy McColl and his assistant, Brent Booker, had conducted.

Parnov is following in the well-trodden footsteps of family members who have risen to the higher echelons of athletics.

Alex was a pole vaulter, mother Nadia was a hurdler. Her grandmother, Natalia Pechenkina, won a 400m bronze medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics while grandfather Valentine Tchistiakov was a hurdler at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

2000 Sydney Olympics pole-vaulting silver medallist Tatiana Grigorieva is Parnov's aunt.

Liz Parnov was 3 when she emigrated to Australia with her family.

Her 27-year-old sister, Vicky, and twins Alla and Natasha, who turned 14 a fortnight a go, also are adroit at pole vaulting although the latter is nursing a sore back.

They only have one aunt in Australia so they travel to Russia quite often to visit relatives.

"At home we all speak Russian because [the twins] were born in Australia so we're trying to keep them in contact with the family. It's hard to speak Russian living in Australia."

Parnov and Vicky are bosom buddies and live and train together although the elder sister is trying hard to make the Aussie games team.

"We're all trying to push her to get there because she's getting to the end of her career ... so we'll see, fingers crossed.

"Maybe one day we'll all make the team together," she says with laugh.

The dinner table becomes interesting at home. Dad, who also mentored Grigorieva, talks shop all day. Mum does the cooking and cleaning for "the little girls because they are hooligans now that they have turned 14 and pack an attitude".

Parnov doesn't know any different because her father has coached her from the word go and they have developed a bond.

"That's the way it's always been as the father and the coach - he's never just been the father and never been just the coach." Parnov and her father share the same birth dates (May 9) so she suspects that has something to do with their affinity both on and off the field.

"My elder sister [Vicky] tends to clash with him more than him and I," she says.

Parnov doesn't have any recollections but she's been told she started following in the footsteps of Vicky when she was 8.

"It so happened that she started and I just got dragged along because mum and dad wouldn't leave me home so I joined in and it just developed from there."

The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games representative always relied on muscle memory although the pre-Rio Olympics injury shook that foundation.

"After my accident I had some demons because it rattled me if I do an attempt and I do something wrong so I kind of get my heart to miss a beat."

However, she reconciles it as sport and part of taking things in her stride in the game of life.

Grigorieva lives in Brisbane so whenever the Parnovs travel to the east coast they catch up with her for coffee or lunch.

"We always keep contact with her but my dad and her always speak on the phone and they're still very close," she says of Grigorieva who is married to mother Nadia's brother, Viktor Chistiakov, also a pole vaulter.

Grigorieva and Christiakov arrived in Australia with Steve Hooker, Paul Burgess and Dmitri Markov.

"Gorgeous Grigorieva", Parnov says, set the tone in athletics that female competitors didn't need to be a muscle-bound species to succeed.

"They can still be sexy, attractive and beautiful," she says, agreeing Grigorieva influenced her into the modelling industry.

Approaching her late teens Parnov realised she was weaker than her rival pole vaulters but looking muscly was proving to be a deterrent.

"I didn't want to look like the Hulk [comic book hero] but now I'm embracing it because it's sport and being strong is beautiful and you're a strong woman so I'm all for that."

She sees the Gold Coast games as a major stepping stone to her Tokyo podium aspirations.

So who is Alex's favourite daughter?

"Oh, I don't know. The dog," Parnov says with a laugh of Belly, a beagle cross king charles cavalier.

Enter the champion coaching father who umms and aahs before revealing it can be a challenge sometimes to coach his daughters.

"But at the same time you can see some advantages in the relationship in coach and athletes and father and daughter, sometimes," says the 58-year-old who is Ukrainian-born.

Alex was a world-class pole vaulter before he went on to mentor a stable of others to the higher echelons.

He treats all his daughters no differently to any other athletes under his tutelage.

"Obviously we're trying to keep it very simple and structured while we're training so they become my daughters once we jump in the car and start driving home."

The competitiveness among his children sometimes increases the level of tension.

Mother Nadia is pivotal in stepping in when the body starts showing signs of strain, especially with the lanky twins who are undergoing growth spurts.

The coaching environment in Australia is a far cry from when he was coaching youngsters in Russia.

"In Russia, when I was coaching kids, so for a few years I never saw their parents," says Alex although the adults in Australia tend to present at training and ask why their children aren't doing more jumps than others so the job also entails educating parents and guardians.

Motivation in Eastern Europe was never an issue but in Australia and, he guesses in New Zealand, too, it is. His maternal heritage is in Ukraine but his paternal one is in Russia.

Supporting his daughters, says Alex, is imperative as long as their heart is still in pole vaulting.

"Life's much bigger than sport so there's no pushing them."

At the height of competition, he finds all his athletes tend to inspire and motivate each other.

At 14, Alex left Ukraine for Moscow and then emigrated to Australia in 1996 after attending the Atlanta Olympics where Australian pole vaulters persuaded him to help boost the code in this part of the world.