AFTER THE NOVEL SUCCESS of the livestreamed men’s Ultimate Pole Vault Garden Clash two weeks ago, Olympic champion Ekaterína Stefanídi was the first to declare her eagerness to compete in a women’s edition. The Greek Stanford grad who World Ranked No. 3 last year got her wish and the victory over ’19’s Nos. 4 and 5 Rankers, Katie Nageotte and Alysha Newman.
The object as the trio tilted across 2 continents and 7 time zones with their efforts streamed from their iPhones was to see who could clear the most 4.00 (13-1½) bars in 30 minutes. Unlike men’s garden clashers Mondo Duplantis, Renaud Lavillenie and Sam Kendricks, the three women lacked PV runways in their backyards so they operated safely social-distanced at local tracks—Stefanídi in Athens, Nageotte in Marietta, Georgia, and Canadian Newman in Bolton, Ontario. ’19’s World No. 1 Anzhelika Sidorova was not involved while No. 2 Sandi Morris—who has a new dad-built backyard facility in North Carolina—joined the stream at the start to explain she was bowing out relucantly due to a minor knee injury.
Adding another competitive twist, the women aimed to surpass the men’s UGC collective total of 96 clearances in two 15-minute halves. They reached the half tied at 47 with the men after 15:00 but slipped behind pace on the backside and finished with 85 trips over the bar—34 for Stefanídi, 30 for Nageotte and 21 for Newman.
Summer is almost here and weather tested the women more than it had the men. The thermometer hovered around 100° Fahrenheit in Athens for the 7:00pm start there; Stefanídi said it had hit 39° Celsius (102) on the day. Nageotte had to cope with beating noontime sun, 85° (29C) and high humidity. Both had to pack their busily streaming phones in ice. Northerly situated Newman vaulted in chilly air with a peskily unsteady tailwind.
Stefanídi jumped out front from the get-go as Nageotte paced herself vaulting on the minute. Several misses set Newman back early and the halftime score was 19–16–12. All three huffed and puffed for air, vaulting as an endurance sport, through the break and when World Athletics commentator Rob Walker asked, Stefanídi gasped, “Yes, that is as tiring as it looks. It would really help if we had 10 less degrees.”
Even after her first miss in the second half it looked as though Stefanídi might equal the 36 vaults with which Mondo and Lavillenie tied in their virtual meeting. But the Greek’s second miss as she tried for bar No. 32 with about 3:40 left on the clock cost her. She lost well over a minute resetting the bar, and admitted afterwards, “My arms were so tired at the end. The bar kept falling and I couldn’t put it up.”
Nageotte closed on her yet couldn’t bridge the gap, and that was that.
“I thought I could take two less jumps in the second part and still match the guys,” Stefanídi said. “And I did take two less jumps but I also missed twice so that cost me tying the guys But I had a ton of fun. I wished it was a little cooler because I really had some issues with my grip because it was so hot. I kept sweating and I kept having to respray for my grip so that definitely added some seconds to every jump. But I very much enjoyed it.”
American Nageotte couldn’t complain. “I am not an endurance athlete in any way, shape or form,” she said. “All of my training partners and coaches can attest to that. My coach laughs during my endurance workouts in preseason. So for me, I knew if I went too much too soon, I wouldn’t be able to even get up in the second half so I just really wanted to stay on the minute and I wanted to hit 30, and if I could push it at the end that’s what I would do. So the fact that I hit 30, and I know that I have absolutely nothing left to give, I needed every second of that minute in between, I’m so happy with that.”
Said Newman, who due to unseasonable cold had taken a 3-week break from vaulting and started back just 3 days before, “At the end of the day this was for all the people tuning in and watching. We want to educate people on pole vault, we want people to see what we do day in and out and just show them how physical it is, but also how mental it is now with what we do.”
Among the thousands tuned in via YouTube and Twitter lobbing encouragement was decathlon great Ashton Eaton, who asked if Stefanídi would now take on the men head to head.
“I would do it,” she said, “but I’m going to need like 3 weeks to recover from this. They’re jumping a meter and 20 under their PR and I was jumping 90cm under my PR. So we’re going to have to adjust the heights a little bit, I think. But I’ll be down, just give me 3 weeks.”
World Athletics has promised it is brainstorming similar pandemic shutdown competitions for other events.