US-based European pole vault silver medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece takes a look at some of the more significant aspects of her athletics life.
My best friend in athletics
I couldn’t say one person. My boyfriend, Mitchell, would be one. We train and compete together. Then I would say all my coaches have always been my best friends – Nick (Hysong), Toby (Stevenson) and my coach when I was in Greece (Panagiotis Simeonidis). I would also include on the list many of my Greek team-mates.
My best piece of coaching advice
When I was younger, my Greek coach would get upset when he asked me to fix something and I would prefer to do something I was more comfortable with. He would tell me: “you need to learn how to learn.” I worked with him from when I was 10 years old until I moved over here to the US. I think I have learned how to learn.
My best achievement in athletics
My European silver (in 2014) was a big achievement, but probably my biggest was winning bronze at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Poland. All the previous age group championships I’d competed at I’d been among the favourites but for that one I barely qualified for the team and scraped into the final. Somehow I ended up winning bronze and bettering my season’s best by 15 centimetres. For that reason it was my best achievement.
My greatest disappointment
I’ve done pretty badly competing at my national championships. I don’t know what happens but I never compete well at the Greek Championships. I’ve never won one, so that is a big disappointment.
My best pole
I have a 4.30m pole, which was my favourite in college. It is now almost too small for me and too dangerous for me to plant. It always used to be my little comfort pole.
The best athlete I’ve ever seen
Renaud Lavillenie – simply because I am a pole vaulter and I understand the specifics of the event. He has a lot of talent but he also manages to overcome a lot of disadvantages, namely his height. I love how he approaches the event. I once heard one of his interviews when he said: “whenever I move on to a bigger pole and grip a little higher, I get excited because it means I am going to jump higher.” I don’t think any other pole vaulter thinks that way.
My greatest indulgence
I would say I used to have a pretty big sweet tooth for desserts. Over the years I have learned to eat better. Sometimes I get a little lazy with the other things I need to do around training. I like training and going to practise, but I’m not so good at taking care of myself outside of training, so I often have to be pushed to go to physical therapy.
My best track venue
Monaco used to be my dream stadium to compete in and I was lucky enough to compete there last year. I generally like indoors and I love the Armory in New York because every spectator appears to be higher than you. It is a little bit claustrophobic, but it really is cool. I also really like the Birmingham indoor arena in England.
My greatest regret
When I was younger I wish someone had approached me about the weight gain I made, so I didn’t react to it (Katerina took a six-month break from the sport when younger and gained weight). Then I just ate more to prove them wrong. Although it is easy to say if those things hadn’t happened I would not be the way I am now mentally, so I wouldn’t say I have any big regrets.
My greatest rival
I would say Vicky Parnov of Australia – one of the athletes I came through the junior ranks with. We are the exact same age and we have been jumping high since we were really young.
My best achievement outside of athletics
The fact I am combining doing a PhD programme with being a professional athlete. It is very hard to combine both and be decent at them. Another achievement I’m very proud of is graduating from Stanford and having the name in my resume.
Steve Landells for the IAAF