Ekaterini Stefanidi ended 2016 with an Olympic gold medal and European Championship title in the bag. The Greek pole vaulter shares advice for both on and off the track.
Treat the prelims and qualification like it was the final. In the past I’ve had my problems during qualification, and I think that was because I thought the qualification mark was easy and this attitude has put me in a lot of trouble.
Last year, at the European Championships and Olympic Games, I changed my philosophy by entering the competition like it was any other with an opening height of 4.60m. At the Olympic Games everyone was freaking out that I did this, but I thought, why is the qualification different to any other meet? This approach has worked for me.
I am not the greatest driver. I am one of those people who slams on the brakes at the last minute. I don’t know if I have a tip. Maybe my husband would say let him drive!
The importance of the run is vital. I am not talking about speed but more the importance of running correctly with the right posture and mechanics, which to me is the most important element to the pole vault because the run is the building block for every other part of the jump. It is an area some vaulters ignore but the very first step sets up the take-off and, in many ways, the run-up is almost half the jump.
Athletics circuit tip
A big part of surviving the circuit is having the right agent, and that is especially true of the pole vault. I have been lucky to have Karen Locke as my agent from 2012 and as a result I have never had to deal with losing my poles. Not only that, I always know I have somebody to pick me up at the airport. Mentally I find it very demanding to travel the athletics circuit, so having a good agent helps enormously.
I would say I have learned how to turn my brain off. By that I mean not over-thinking every jump and dwelling on moving up to a bigger pole and gripping higher. Experience has taught me to relax. I have vaulted for so long my body knows what to do, so I can turn by brain off when jumping.
I cook, but I don’t cook very well. My husband and I like Thai food and we have discovered the importance of eating spicy food to help the metabolism.
One of the biggest changes I’ve made recently has been to what I eat at breakfast. I used to eat cereal with milk but I found I was getting a little excessive in eating half a bag of cereal a day! Now I eat oatmeal or oatmeal pancakes, which are tasty and much healthier.
I used to go to practice when I was younger with far too much make-up, but now I like to look pretty natural when I compete. Of course, for others competing with lots of make-up is perfectly normal. So I’m going to take the Michelle Carter [US Olympic shot put champion] approach here – if you look good, you feel good and perform good.
I am always a great student of any competition and I often know better than the officials who has jumped what height. However in the past I was studying far too closely, to the extent that if a vaulter cleared a low bar by more than a foot I was making mental calculations about how much higher they could jump and it was effecting me mentally.
More recently I have decided not to watch the other vaulters jump. I know from the crowd reaction whether a vaulter has cleared the bar or not, but learning not to watch it has made me a better athlete and more focused on what I need to do.
I would say get the timing right. This summer we were away from home for four months and at the end of the season it would have been easy to say, ‘let’s book a holiday on a Greek island’. Yet what we wanted to do was to just to spend some time at home. My husband and I have found after a hard training cycle to take a short break and few days off from training to be very important.
Social media tip
I am not very good when it comes to social media, but I try to be more active for sponsors because that is the age we live in right now. For me personally, I would like to see more of the struggles in practice. It is better to show how it really is. But, to be honest, because I am pretty bad with social media I would be the last person to offer advice!
I think the key for any couple is to find the middle ground and to both do something you enjoy. For my husband and I, we both like a restaurant and movie night.