The women’s pole vault is one of the deepest events in track and field at the moment. Including indoor marks, 10 athletes have cleared heights of 4.80m or more this season – the first time in history that has happened.
Fabiana Murer, Ekaterini Stefanidi and Yarisley Silva are among them. All three will compete at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco on Friday (15), and the rise in quality has not passed them by.
“This competition will be very tough,” said Silva at the pre-competition press conference. “It’s the first time that pole vault has been at this high level.”
Silva should know. When the Cuban won gold at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, it was the first competition ever where seven athletes cleared 4.70m or more. Most recently she won in Birmingham, breaking the IAAF Diamond League record with 4.84m. As far as she’s concerned, the improvement is positive.
“It’s very good for the sport to be noticed,” she said. “It’s going to be very fun to compete in Rio, even though the preliminary competition is going be just as hard as the final!”
The Rio Olympics are on everyone’s mind, none more so than Murer. The Brazilian confirmed her place at her home Olympics with a South American record of 4.87m earlier this month. She knows the steep rise in standard in her event means it will be anything but a procession.
“All the girls who have jumped more than 4.80m can win a medal,” she said. “It’s very open. The level has grown so much. It’s totally different.”
Though much of the talk inevitably centred on Rio, all three athletes’ focus is squarely on the Meeting Herculis in Monaco.
In her most recent competition, Stefanidi claimed European Championships gold in Amsterdam with a 4.81m championship record. The Greek athlete said that, as well as being a medal, her mark there underlines her strong form and ability to cope with all conditions.
“My last three meets have been over 4.80m,” she said. “Jumping 4.81m in Amsterdam in very difficult conditions [namely swirling winds], it was one of the hardest meets. That gives me a lot of confidence.”
The competition in Monaco will be tough. Besides Stefanidi, Silva and Murer, Australia’s Alana Boyd and New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney have also gone 4.80m or higher this season and feature in the Stade Louis II.
Yet Murer, who has signalled this year will be her last of competition, is not rattled. She is in the form of her career and has experience to call on when the bar begins to move up.
“During my first international season in 2006, I made good memories here [in Monaco] – it was the first win of my career,” said the 2011 world champion.
“I’ve been a long time in this career,” she added. “I know how to deal with pressure. I’ve had a lot of good things and bad things in my career, so I’m very confident.”
Schippers ready to up the pace
The last time Dafne Schippers raced, it was in front of an adoring home crowd in Amsterdam, where she won European Championships gold medals in the 100m and 4x100m.
Monaco will be different. First off, she won’t be backed by a partisan crowd; second, the Dutchwoman won’t just be against Europe’s best, but the world’s.
“It was very special to compete there,” Schippers said of her home championships. But that was just a step on her road to Rio. Monaco is the next, and she has selected it for a reason.
“I search for competition with fast girls,” said the 24-year-old, who will race in-form Tianna Bartoletta and seven-time Olympic medallist Veronica Campbell-Brown. “My goal tomorrow is to run faster than at the Europeans. The weather is a little bit better. I hope to improve on the 10.90.”
Monaco also brings together Gianmarco Tamberi, European champion in the high jump, with Mutaz Essa Barshim, the current world leader. Their friendly rivalry was plain to see, though Tamberi was reticent to say Monaco will be an Olympic precursor.
“It’s not that you win here you win in Rio,” the Italian said. “But you can understand how to compete with the best athletes one month before the most important competition. It’s really important to understand what I’m feeling, how my body is.”
Barshim agreed. Following back injuries that have plagued the Qatari for 18 months, his aim for tomorrow is to do what he loves, pain free.
“There’s nothing I really want to test and try. I have training to do that,” he said. “I just want to have fun. I love jumping. Let’s go out there and make the best out of it.”
That was echoed by hurdlers Omar McLeod and Pascal Martinot-Lagarde. McLeod, the fastest man over the barriers this year, said his focus is always fun.
“I think it’s a relaxation for me,” the Jamaican said. Nonetheless, he is aware of Monaco’s reputation for pace. “I’ve heard that it’s a very track and fast times are produced. I’m ready to go out there and see if it’s my lucky year, my lucky meet.”
Frenchman Martinot-Lagarde said a back injury earlier in the season was making him “stressed before races”. Now running freely, he wants to rediscover his best form.
“I love Monaco,” he said. “The last time I ran here, I ran my personal best 12.95. So I want to bring back this emotion, this kind of race.”
Christophe Lemaitre also expressed his desire to put injuries behind him. Missing the European Championships was a big blow, the Frenchman said. Running in the 200m tomorrow night, he hopes to put the two parts of his race together as he counts down to Rio.
“We’ve been working on the final part of my 200m,” said the 2011 world bronze medallist. “Even the first part. The starts were really good this year. Everything looks, to me, very positive and in the right place. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Thomas Byrne for the IAAF