Series01 May 2019

Advice to my younger self: Katerina Stefanidi


Greek pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi (© AFP / Getty Images)

World, Olympic and European champion Katerina Stefanidi has won almost all there is to win in the pole vault, but all of her success hasn’t come without learning a few valuable lessons along the way. The Greek record-holder shares that advice here with a younger version of herself.


Hi Katerina,

I have been asked to give you some advice, but knowing how stubborn you are and how you already know everything, it’s probably going to go in one ear and out the other. But let’s try.

You know how people say that the journey to success is not a sprint but a marathon? Well, let me tell you: they are wrong. It’s actually a hike. A hike through a mountain range. Every time you think you’ve made it to the top, the only way is down.

Now I know about all your age group world bests. That’s good news. It means that not only do you like pole vaulting, but you are good at it. But brace yourself for the next 15 years.

What? You are upset because you didn’t set a PB this indoor season. Well, the bad news is that you will not actually set a PB for another five years. No advice for you here. I know I don’t need to tell you to keep trying because I know you will. Just give it some time… Okay, a lot of time.

Was that month-long mental block rough? Well, I have both good and bad news for you, Katerina. The good news is, experiencing that mental block made you more resilient. The bad news: this was the first of many mental blocks to come.

I also am sorry that your lower back is bothering you and again I have both good and bad news. The bad news is you will have to manage this issue for the rest of your career. Good news: in the process of managing it, and often even temporarily fixing it, you will meet some incredibly inspirational people.

Talking about people... I know your current coach is tough on you and I know how much you hate that. Well, let me tell you that karma comes around and you will be so lucky to go on to meet some of the greatest coaches in the world. Coaches that will motivate you and make you love pole vaulting for all kinds of different reasons. Some will believe in you and some may not. But trust me, most will. One will tell you that one day you’ll win the Olympics, even before you have jumped high enough to qualify for them. And believe it or not, you will go on to marry one of those coaches.

I’m sorry you haven’t had the best of luck so far but this is what will make you better at choosing the people you want to have around you. And that’s the most important part of success, Katerina.

So to circle back around (because I know you only slept 12 hours last night and you need a nap). The journey to success is not a sprint and it’s not a marathon. It’s a hike, a hike with the most amazing and inspiring people around you. I know how much you hate to walk, so I suggest that at times you sprint and then stop and rest but sometimes do take the time out to walk and enjoy the journey.

If at any time you lose sight of the summit, remember you are doing this because of how much you enjoy pole vaulting. And any time you think you’ve reached the summit, remember this is a mountain range and the top of one mountain is the bottom of another.


Steve Landells for the IAAF