Olympic Women’s Pole Vault — She Flies Through The Air

An ecstatic Katie Nageotte became only the second 16-footer in Olympic history. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

DIGGING A HOLE at the opening height isn’t a recommended technique for winning a gold medal, but favored Katie Nageotte managed to bounce back from an initial pair of misses at the low setting of 14-9 (4.50) to end up on the podium’s top step.

After the competition she explained her early problems: “During the warmup, my quad was tight, like grabbing tight. It took me more trips down the runway than I would have liked just to warm it up. My warmups were not great and I think that went into my first couple of attempts.

“I had a slow start getting into my rhythm, but once I did, I just held on to that. I was nervous. I know my family got up very early. I would have felt very bad if I made them wake up at 6 in the morning to watch me no-height. So that was definitely going through my head.

“But my coach [’07 world champ Brad Walker] has done a very good job of teaching me how to make it about the cues and the things I can execute. It took me a minute to get that, but I was able to get my head on my shoulders and start executing.”

But even after that it took her a pair of tries at 15-5 (4.70) and she thus found herself in 3rd behind Russia’s Anzhelika Sidorova (two clearances without a miss) and Briton Holly Bradshaw (a first-time make at 14-9, second time at 15-5). The only other vaulter still in the mix was defending champ Katerína Stefanídi, who had needed 3 tries at each height.

The 15-woman field had pared down quite quickly on a night when clearances were rare. Although only 2 (including American Morgann LeLeux) were knocked out at the opener, overall the finalists racked up 18 misses and 13 makes at that 14-9 (4.50) setting.

The carnage was much worse at 15-5 (4.70), with 31 misses and only the 4 clearances. But the competition was far from over with attempts at 5 more heights still to come, with a jumping order of Stefanídi, Sidorova, Bradshaw and Nageotte. (Continued below)

14-9 15-5 15-9 15-11 16-¾ 16-2¾ 16-5¼
Silva xo xxx
Xu xo xxx
Kyriakopoulou xo xxx
Peinado xo xxx
Zhuk xo xxx
Stefanídi xxo xxo xo xp xx
Newell xxx
Sidorova o o o o xxp x
Bradshaw o xo xo o xxx
Nageotte xxo xo o o xo p xpp
LeLeux xxx
Kylypko o xxx
Šutej o xxx
Murto o xxx
Bengtsson xxo xxx
4.50 4.70 4.80 4.85 4.90 4.95 5.01

To open at 15-9 (4.80) the Greek missed, but Sidorova remained perfect. Bradshaw also failed but Nageotte cleared, bumping the American up to the silver position. Stefanídi and Bradshaw both made on second.

The next setting was 15-11 (4.85), where Stefanídi again missed, and when the other three all went clear on first attempt she passed to 16-¾ (4.90). Only WR holder Yelena Isinbaeva had ever cleared 16ft in Olympic competition, but she soon had company.

First time through the order, all missed. On the second iteration, Stefanídi missed and was out, so the medalists were known, but not yet the order.

Sidorova failed for the first time, opening the door for Nageotte. The 30-year-old Ohio native barged through it. She stood at the end of the runway, recited her mantra and sped down her path to glory. It was a completely-clear no-doubt make that elicited a whoop of joy as she arched over the bar.

Predictably, the Russian passed her third attempt, then Bradshaw missed but came away happy enough with the bronze (and an equaling of the best 3rd-place mark ever).

At 16-2¾ (4.95) Sidorova would only have a single try, but it appeared she might have had chosen too much pole as she didn’t even reach the bar.

Nageotte then passed and had the bar raised to 16-5¼ (5.01) which would be the highest outdoor height ever cleared by an American. (Nageotte had attempted a WR after winning at the Olympic Trials) But so overcome with emotion was she that she was still sobbing as she made what would be her only attempt before realizing she just couldn’t go on. A record was not to be, but she already had the biggest prize of her career.

She explained, “I came into today with my sights set on not just winning but attempting a World Record. But the emotion of winning all crashed down on me. I tried to get back in that mentality but the moment I pushed out I realized I didn’t have the same power output, and it would have been dangerous at that point to try, so I called it. But I’m not too mad about it.”


(August 05) (temperature 93–82F/34–28C; humidity 60–72%)

1. Katie Nageotte (US) 16-¾ (4.90);

2. Anzhelika Sidorova (Rus) 15-11 (4.85);

3. Holly Bradshaw (GB) 15-11 (4.85);

4. Katerína Stefanídi (Gre) 15-9 (4.80);

5. tie, Tina Šutej (Slo), Wilma Murto (Fin) & Maryna Kylypko (Ukr) 14-9 (4.50);

8. tie, Iryna Zhuk (Blr), Nikoléta Kiriakopoúlou (Gre), Huiqin Xu (Chn), Yarisley Silva (Cub) & Robeilys Peinado (Ven) 14-9 (4.50);

13. Angelica Bengtsson (Swe) 14-9 (4.50);

… nh—Morgann LeLeux (US), Anicka Newell (Can).

(best-ever mark-for-place: =3, =4)

QUALIFYING (August 02; auto-qualifier 15-5/4.70)

Qualifiers: all finalists cleared 14-11/4.55;

Non-qualifiers: [14-5¼/4.40]—Michaela Meijer (Swe), Sandi Morris (US), Elisa Molinarolo (Ita), Eléni-Klaoúdia Pólak (Gre), Angelica Moser (Swi), Yana Hladiychuk (Ukr), Nina Kennedy (Aus), Romana Maláčová (CzR);

[13-11¼/4.25]—Roberta Bruni (Ita), Andrina Hodel (Swi), Liz Parnova (Aus), Lene Retzius (Nor), Fanny Smets (Bel);

… nh—Alysha Newman (Can), Ling Li (Chn), Elina Lampela (Fin). ◻︎