Looking ahead to the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships on the eve of her final competition beforehand at the IAAF Monaco Diamond League in July, Ekaterini Stefanidi was already clearly focused on her task in Berlin.
“The European Championships are definitely number one on my list this season,” said the reigning world, Olympic and European indoor and outdoor pole vault champion. “This will be the first title I am trying to defend, and it’s not going to be as last time.”
Two years ago in Amsterdam Stefanidi won her first major title with a vault of 4.81m which surpassed the championship record of 4.80m set in 2006 by Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva. She finished well clear of the silver medallist, Lisa Ryzih of Germany, who managed 4.70m, with Sweden’s Angelica Bengtsson taking bronze with 4.65m.
Two years on, the 28-year-old Greek athlete has a season’s best a centimetre higher than that winning effort but standards in the event have risen steadily - and widely - in the interim. In world terms, four vaulters have cleared higher this season, including former European indoor and outdoor champion Anzhelika Sidorova who will be competing in Berlin as an Authorised Neutral Athlete.
Meanwhile on the 2018 European lists, there are four vaulters who are only just behind her: Holly Bradshaw, who has managed 4.80m; Ninon Guillon-Romarin who has raised her French record to 4.75m; Bengtsson who raised her Swedish record to 4.73m last week and Stefanidi’s compatriot Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou who has cleared 4.72m on her return from maternity leave.
“Here in Monaco there is only one girl in field that hasn’t jumped over 4.70m,” said Stefanidi. “Ten girls over 4.70m. It’s scary. So many are already at a very high level. There are going to be a lot of girls coming in wanting a medal in Berlin. This was my last big event before the Europeans. I want to perform well and be able to go with confidence to defend my title in Berlin next month.”
In the event she did well enough, finishing joint second with Cuba’s 2015 world champion Yarisley Silva on 4.80m. But Sidorova did more than well enough, winning with 4.85 and equalling her personal best.
Sidorova commented after her competition in the Stade Louis II: “My first win in Diamond League is very special and I’m thankful for that. I still had some power at the end but not enough to clear another height. I think to win in Berlin, 4.90m would be needed and that is exactly the result I want to achieve.”
Another 4.80 jump and tied for second with Yarisley Silva today. A really close attempt at 4.90m too. Thank you @MeetingHerculis for such an amazing atmosphere ❤️ #nike #stoiximan #nbg #ibank #toyota #lorvenn #seventeen #diamondleague #MonacoDL #DiamondLeague#RoadToTheFinal pic.twitter.com/lJBsPumdmJ
— Katerina Stefanidi (@KatStefanidi) July 20, 2018
Stefanidi’s take on the Monaco result was still a positive one – but then, as she pointed out, she is broadly speaking in a good place right now after a difficult start to the year because of an injury.
“I started not so confident this season, but in the last month it has been much better. In pole vault you get in good or bad cycle. Thankfully we have left the bad cycle and we are into the good cycle now! I am glad because I needed it with the European Championships coming up,” she said.
And broadly speaking, her competition in the Principality has kept that cycle moving in a good direction.
“I would have loved coming back here and winning but it was a great field with four girls over 4.80m,” she said. “I think the wind didn’t help because we did the warm up in perfect conditions. I thought at that point that the world record would be broken but then it switched a bit and I think it handicapped a few girls.
“I’m really looking forward to Berlin, and then the Diamond League final and the Continental Cup. I also think I can break five metres this year. My injury pushed my expectations back a bit, but let's see. I still think that medals are more important as I get to bring them home, so of course my eyes are first on the Championships - but let’s see for the five metres.”
If Stefanidi can manage that ambition she will be joining club that currently has just three members: Morris, who cleared 5.00m at the 2016 IAAF Brussels Diamond League final, world indoor record-holder Jenn Suhr who has cleared 5.03m and Isinbayeva, whose outdoor world record from 2009 stands at 5.06m.
But first things first, Greece’s multiple champion needs to attend to bringing that gold medal home.