Ekaterini Stefanidi from Greece will go in search of her sixth major senior gold medal when she defends her European indoor pole vault title in Glasgow from 1-3 March.
Stefanidi followed up her victory at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade with an unbeaten summer campaign which was capped by a gold medal at the IAAF World Championships in London. Stefanidi was tested by her redoubtable long-time rival Sandi Morris during her unbeaten season but she said her biggest challenge of the year came in the Serbian capital.
“Probably my toughest competitor was Lisa Ryzih. She pushed me so much [in Belgrade] and I had to pass from 4.65m to 4.80m to take an attempt that would be a winning jump. Sandi has pushed me for many years but I would say Lisa pushed me the most at that one particular competition,” reflected Stefanidi at the 2017 Golden Tracks award ceremony in Vilnius, Lithuania where she was crowned female European Athlete of the Year.
While Stefanidi recorded a failure at her opening height of 4.55m, Ryzih cleared every height from 4.40m through to 4.75m on her first attempt. It was only at 4.80m that Stefanidi moved into gold medal position before consolidating her lead with another clearance at 4.85m, also on her first attempt.
Sandwiched in between her European indoor title from Belgrade are a pair of outdoor titles from the European Championships, winning in Amsterdam with a championship record of 4.81m which she improved to 4.85m at the Berlin 2018 European Indoor Championships last August.
Stefanidi will now go in search of back-to-back European indoor titles at the Emirates Arena, a feat that has never been achieved thus far on the women’s side although Russia’s Svetlana Feofanova did win two titles albeit in non-consecutive editions.
The women’s pole vault could be one of the hottest tickets of the championships as the silver and bronze medallists from Berlin - teammate Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou and Great Britain’s Holly Bradshaw, the European indoor champion in 2013 - have also confirmed they have Glasgow in their sights.
Former European indoor and outdoor champion Anzhelika Sidorova is also in sparkling early season form, opening with a 4.85m clearance.
Stefanidi will put down her marker on Friday (18) when she makes her season’s opener at the Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nevada.
She will also compete on the IAAF World Indoor Tour in Boston (26 January), Karlsruhe (2 February), Birmingham (16 February) and Dusseldorf (20 February) and is also confirmed for the Perche Elite Tour in Rouen on 9 February.