Ekaterini Stefanidi carries the confidence and reassurance one might expect from an athlete who hasn’t been beaten in a major outdoor championships since 2015.
Stefanidi might see four athletes ahead of her on the 2019 world list which is led by Jenn Suhr at 4.91m but her form - which peaked and troughed in the early months of the campaign - is on a resoundingly upward curve with the main fixtures of the season approaching.
Stefanidi has won her last three competitions, including the Greek Championships in Patra where she cleared a season’s best of 4.83m. She consolidated that domestic performance with wins against high level opposition at the European Athletics Team Championships and the Birmingham Diamond League, although the conditions in both competitions meant her results did not fully reflect her current form.
“I’m very excited about my performance,” Stefanidi told European Athletics after Birmingham. “I jumped 4.75m here in my first meet after the World Championships in London which was where I jumped 4.91m. I think I’m in that sort of shape; of course the conditions in Birmingham are never that great but I think it shows when you can jump these heights in these conditions, it shows you are ready for the bigger bars.
“This was a big meet - to keep that consistency. It was one of the first times that we were so confident about the choices we were making. This is how it gets every year - and this is how it gets towards the end and this is why I said this longer season might suit me,” she said.
For Stefanidi, the clarity of her decision-making in an event which has as many variables as the pole vault is an under-appreciated part of the process of peaking for the major championships so while a 4.75m clearance was not her best result of the season, the performance in Birmingham represented a significant milestone in the arc of her season.
“The conditions last week were definitely better than here so to jump 4.75m was better than the 4.70m I jumped in Bydgoszcz. After the competition in Bydgoszcz, we said ‘I wish I had gone up a pole’ and today we felt like every decision we made lined up and this is part of peaking. It’s just not mental and physical, it’s also the decision-making involved,” she said.
Stefanidi will be defending her world title in Doha next month but the Greek has a busy run-up to those championships with competitions in Paris, Zurich and Brussels all on the itinerary as well as the inaugural edition of the The Match: Europe v USA which takes place in Minsk, Belarus on 9-10 September. This will serve as the final opportunity to fine-tune any technical aspects in a competitive environment ahead of Doha against a strong field which will include Anzhelika Sidorova, who has beaten Stefanidi in major events in the past.
Along with Turkey's Ramil Guliyev and Russia's Mariya Lasitskene, Stefanidi was unveiled as a Team Europe event ambassador earlier this season and she is greatly excited about an event which she hopes will be redolent of the collegiate meetings she took part in when she studied in the United States where the team aspect shone through.
“It will be fun - the last opportunity to compete before Doha,” she said. “It will be our last competition but that doesn’t mean we are not aiming to jump high but I think it will be a little different, a bit more relaxed and it will bring about this team atmosphere.”