Series09 Jan 2017

My greatest challenge – Ekaterini Stefanidi


Ekaterini Stefanidi in the pole vault at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 (© Getty Images)

Greek pole vaulter Ekaterini Stefanidi enjoyed a near perfect 2016 campaign, securing the Olympic, Diamond Race and European titles.

Here, in the first of a new series on the IAAF website, the 26-year-old talks about some barriers she has had to overcome in her burgeoning career so far.

Multiple challenges

I don’t feel I’ve had to deal with one great challenge, but rather multiple challenges. I’ve not been in the valley or at the top of the mountain in terms of challenges, but constantly in the foothills. I have had to deal with many challenges throughout my life.


If I was to pinpoint a couple, I would say one challenge I had to overcome was weight issues in my younger days.

Aged about 16 and going through that process of turning from a girl into a woman, I put on two or three pounds. It wasn’t a lot of weight, and you certainly couldn’t tell if you looked at videos of me. Yet looking back, this weight gain contributed to me becoming a borderline bulimic.

I would go four or five hours without eating a thing and then I would binge. I went through periods when I would be on a strict diet for a couple of days and then the next couple of days I would eat everything in the house.

It was decided I would not compete at the 2006 World Junior Championships and I quit pole vault for eight months. I came back in 2007 and won silver at the World Youth Championships and went on to win bronze at the 2008 World Junior Championships. Yet after moving to college in the US, I once again encountered weight problems and put on a lot of weight.

Thankfully, over time, and with the help of my husband, we have managed to beat this problem. We started out by just changing my breakfast and replacing cereal with oatmeal and over time we have changed every meal, which has made a real difference.


The other biggest challenge I had to overcome was relocating from Greece to study in the US at Stanford University in 2008.

I moved there having never even visited the US, but when I arrived I found the language a real problem. I had learned academic English, so I had no problem understanding in the classroom. However, outside of the class room I struggled with some of the terminology.

For example, if I heard someone using a term such as “party pooper”, I would not understand what they meant. And because I was not comfortable with the language, my personality changed and it was hard for me to make new friends.

But over time I became more accustomed to the language. As I started to speak more comfortably on a greater range of topics and I made more friends, my life became much easier.

Steve Landells for the IAAF