US pole vaulter Katie Nageotte (© Getty Images)
Katie Nageotte’s confidence levels are soaring, as is her pole vaulting.
The 29-year-old US vaulter set a new personal best and world-leading mark of 4.92m at a meet in Marietta, Georgia, near Atlanta, on 1 August. The successful jump propelled her to third on the U.S. women’s all-time list, and sixth in the world all-time.
“This year, more than ever from the full approach, for the first time I’m able to really tell my body what to do going into the take-off,” Nageotte said.
“I knew if I wanted to make that bar, I’d have to fight for it and stay back as long as I could on the pole, before going out and over it (the crossbar).”
For Nageotte, it was also her first career outdoor clearance of 16 feet.
“I was ecstatic – I have been going for 4.92m for a long time,” said the two-time national indoor champion. “It was frustrating that I was able to do it indoors and wasn’t doing as well outdoors.
“I’d jump well indoors and then we’d go outdoors and I’d notice the winds more and let the elements affect me more. I was a little more anxious outdoors.
Nageotte’s previous outdoor best was 4.83m, which she cleared on 18 July, also in Marietta.
On the doorstep of the five-metre club
Nageotte took three attempts at the national record of 5.01m, aiming to eclipse the current 5.00m mark set by Sandy Morris in September 2016. A valiant third effort gave Nageotte added confidence that the record is attainable in the foreseeable future.
“I’m excited because it’s right there – it’s in me right now,” Nageotte said. “I’m really confident in my ability and what I’m capable of, but I also know that this sport can be tough and humbles you real quickly.”
Nageotte attributes most of her newfound success, enhanced confidence, and a more relaxed mindset to her coach Brad Walker, who she has been working with since 2017.
“He has completely changed my life from a pole vault standpoint, but also in real life too,” Nageotte says about Walker, the 2007 world champion and former national record holder.
“I always knew mentally that I was pretty weak – I was always afraid to pole vault when it came down to it. I never really knew what I was doing.
“It ‘s kind of scary when you feel like you don’t have control of what I was doing.
“He really changed the mental side of it for me, so that I was actually confident and wanted to take it up every time.”
Walker says Nageotte has done a tremendous job getting her work accomplished despite the infrequency of meets this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He says they share a mutual trust paramount to the athlete coach relationship.
“Her willingness to simply trust what I was showing her allowed her to feel positions that instill confidence,” Walker says of Nageotte’s improved technique. “Confidence in positions leads to confidence in the jump, and when repeated thousands of times will change the wiring in the brain and psychology of the athlete.
“In short, she went from a runway mindset of ‘hoping’ to a mindset of ‘execution.’”
Nageotte says lessons learned from Walker extend beyond athletics.
“It’s cool because that confidence that he created on the runway has carried over to my everyday life.”
Ending on a high note
Despite Nageotte’s world-leading jump and booming confidence, she has decided that the recent meet near her Georgia home would be her last of the abridged 2020 outdoor season.
“It was a draining kind of an exhausting year, even though we didn’t compete so much. It was exhausting in its own way, it was different and stressful,” Nageotte said.
“I was super happy how I ended my season – that hasn’t happened in years,” she added. “Let’s go into the pre-season hard next year and make it happen.”
It was a mutual decision between Nageotte and Walker.
“Katie has done a tremendous job of training hard when other athletes saw an opportunity to relax and her performances show that,” Walker says. “And because of training hard into the season, we’ve chosen to pull back to protect her from exhaustion and mental fatigue.
“Katie will leave the crazy 2020 season with a lifetime best in a meet with no competition. Even though she is in 5.00m shape, it makes more sense for her to rest happy and healthy, than squeak everything we can get out of her and risk injury,” he said.
Gearing up for the 2021 US Olympic Trials
Nageotte narrowly missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic for Rio 2016, finishing fifth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Despite the uncertainty of future meets due to the current health situation, Nageotte has a positive outlook heading towards the US trials for Tokyo 2020, now scheduled for June 2021 in Eugene, Oregon.
“No one really knows what to do, but if anyone can figure it out it is Brad and I have full faith in him – he’s just been able to see the bigger picture better than I ever could,” Nageotte says.
“Obviously, I hope we will be able to compete this coming indoor season – that would be really great for going into outdoors, but obviously there are some bigger issues out there.”
Pushing the limit at the Garden Clash
Nageotte admitted that that competing in the recent Ultimate Garden Clash, where she vaulted against Greek Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi and Canadian Alysha Newman, each jumping individually at home, was one of the most grueling events that she’s ever taken part in.
Created by World Athletics, the unique competition involved the three female pole vaulters being challenged to clear as many 4.00m bars as possible over a 30-minute timeframe. The May competition was one of the first sporting events to be shown live during the pandemic.
“I’m so happy that I did it, but it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Nageotte said. “I am not an endurance athlete and really struggle with those type of workouts.
Stefanidi won with 34 total clearances as Nageotte finished second with 30 and Newman third at 21.
“It may sound like a cliché, but it really showed me that my body is capable of so much more than my mind thinks it could do when you are pushed to that level.”
Brian Pinelli for World Athletics