News & Updates

4 March 2023 • Track and Field

Eliza McCartney claims heart-warming pole vault win in Wellington

Eliza McCartney edges a high-class women’s pole vault competition at Newtown Park with a best of 4.61m. (Credit: Alisha Lovrich).

Eliza McCartney rolled back the years to win her first national title for six years with a clearance of 4.61m to ignite day three of the 2023 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington.

In a competition dripping with quality, McCartney edged the competition on countback from Olivia McTaggart with her best clearance since January 2019 to offer real optimism she is emerging from the horrific injury issues which have stunted her career in recent years. Imogen Ayris, the Commonwealth bronze medallist, picked up bronze with 4.46m.

In a truly epic competition between a trio of top-class pole vaulters, the scene was set for something special after McTaggart and Ayris cleared 4.31m at the first of asking.

McCartney, who extended her run-up to 12 strides from the eight steps she implemented at her two previous competitions this season, missed out on her first attempt at that height.

However, she nailed her second attempt at 4.31m with a huge clearance, a moment which came as an enormous relief to the 26-year-old Aucklander.

With the bar then raised to 4.46m we were treated to another demonstration of the embarrassment of riches we enjoy in women’s pole vault here in New Zealand as McCartney and Ayris both cleared 4.46m with their first attempt and McTaggart gave a pump of the fist after achieving the height with her second effort.

At the next height of 4.61m, McCartney made an aborted first attempt before soaring clear at the second time of asking – with an exhilarated crowd roaring their approval that the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist was making a welcome return to form.  

While Ayris suffered a nasty looking accident at 4.61m – which thankfully caused no injury concerns – she was unable to nail what would have been an 11cm PB. McTaggart, however, was still in the mix, after wriggling clear at 4.61m with her third attempt – 4cm shy of her PB and her second best height ever.

The bar was then raised to the World Championships entry standard of 4.71m and while no further progress was made – it was an epic pole vault showdown which will live long in the memory at Newtown Park.

An elated McCartney said: “It is really exciting to be able to compete at nationals again. I came to the track yesterday, and to be perfectly honest it was quite overwhelming. It has been a longer time since I’ve competed in Wellington, and I had that imposter syndrome of because I hadn’t done this in a long time. I’m not as a fit as I would like to be, but I gave 100 per cent of what I’ve got today and I’m really grateful I got the chance to jump at nationals again.

“My only goal was to get a couple of heights under my belt, so I came in really low to make it easy for myself to begin with.

On whether she felt she had the 4.71m height within her today she added: “I absolutely had 4.71m in me today, but it came too late in the competition for me. If I had done one less height, I may have achieved it but completely lost it, I hit a brick wall and I couldn’t generate energy off the track. The three attempts I had at 4.71 I wasn’t jumping, I was basically holding on to the pole, running into the box and hoping for the best. I just lost control of my legs. I’m just not as fit as I would like to be.”

On the strength in depth of the overall competition McCartney added: “It is amazing to be out of action for years and to come back and be up against such high-class athletes in what is a niche sport here in New Zealand. We can really push each other. We have a great camaraderie and a friendly, healthy rivalry. It helps to have that energy.”

This was a point echoed by McTaggart who added: “It was incredible, we’ve been wanting a competition like all season, and it happened to be at nationals when it all came together. I am so excited for the next few competitions. There is great camaraderie between us where we genuinely wanted each other to jump well. I love it so much.”

A monster 21.80m distance by Jacko Gill ended the 13-year reign of Tom Walsh as national champion as the Aucklander picked up his first ever New Zealand senior crown.

In a classic encounter between two throwing titans, Gill laid down a marker from round one to lead from the Commonwealth champion by a 7cm margin after powering out a 21.27m put and from that point did not relinquish control of the competition.

Walsh went out to 21.25m in round two only for Gill to respond with a 21.44m heave. The third stanza saw the leader extend his advantage with a 21.75m throw and in round four he tightened his grip on gold with a 21.80m toss. Walsh could not respond on this occasion to the supreme Gill, who finally joins his mother, Nerida, and father, Walter, as a senior national champion. Nerida won the 1990 national discus title and Walter is a two-time former New Zealand shot champion.

Gill said of winning his first national senior title “It feels amazing. It is very fresh but I’m just stoked to do it. To win this is right up to there to be honest. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the past 15 years and there has been a lot of nationals when I have come second or been out through injury, I’m just happy to beat Tom. I have a lot of respect for him, and I’m honoured to beat him.”

New Zealand men’s high jump record-holder Hamish Kerr, who has just enjoyed the greatest few weeks of his career competing on the indoor circuit in Europe, secured his eighth national title with a best of 2.20m.

While the 26-year-old Christchurch-based athlete was not quite in the form which saw him produce a world-class national record height of 2.34m in Slovakia last month – he comfortably had enough to bank gold. Logging first time clearances at 2.03m, 2.11m and 2.20m he attempted 2.30m but that on this occasion that proved too much. Adam Stack (Canterbury) jumped well to clear 2.07m for silver with Mate Poduje (Otago) negotiating 2.03m to ensure a South Island clean sweep of the podium.

Kerr said: “Another national title sums it up, the height wasn’t what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. I moved the bar up from 2.20m to 2.30m, which was fighting words from me and it was a statement from where my jumping was at, but I’m just stoked to be here and I’ve done a lot of travel in recent weeks. I’m looking forward to putting my feet up and re-building for the rest of the season.”

Mariah Ririnui (Waikato BoP) shaded a thrilling women’s long jump with a fifth round effort of 6.08m (0.7) securing her fifth national title. Kelsey Berryman (Canterbury) courtesy of a 6.00m (1.9) leap earned her sixth national senior long jump medal with 2023 New Zealand number one Hannah Sandilands (Canterbury) in bronze with a best of 5.94m (-0.4). Paralympic long jump T46 champion Anna Grimaldi jumped well, soaring out to 5.69m for sixth.

Despite the cold and damp conditions this morning, Paralympic champion Lisa Adams put on a demonstration of throwing excellent to win the women’s Para shot put with a season’s best 15.19m. The 32-year-old Waikato Bay of Plenty athlete opened up with an outstanding 15.16 – within 34cm of her world record shot put F37 mark. In the following round she popped out her best for the day of 15.19m – 98% within the world record.

Dame Valerie Adams, coach to Lisa, said: “This has been a good day for her, and a good day for us. She started off strong which is awesome. This sets her up well, we’ve had a very consistent season so far.”

Lisa Adams will next compete at the Sir Graeme Douglas International presented by Harcourts Cooper & Co in Auckland on 16 March.

Una Kinajil-Reding (Canterbury) bettered her U17 national F45 record with a best throw of 7.98m.

Paralympic long jump T36 silver medallist Will Stedman claimed the gold medal in the men’s Para long jump with a best of 5.28m – which he registered twice in rounds two and three – within 89.04% of the world record. Yet the happiest athlete was silver medallist Jaxon Woolley who enjoyed an early birthday present by advanced his previous PB by 32cm in one competition to set an U17, U20 and senior national T38 record of 4.85m (0.9) for silver (66.35%).

Woolley, who celebrates his 17th birthday tomorrow when he competes in the Para 200m, was elated to smash his previous best with his coach, Kerry Hill saying: “We haven’t had much chance to do jumps in the past few weeks. This come out of the blue today – half a metre further than he jumped at the start of the season. But I think there is a lot more to come.”

Tatiana Kaumoana (Waikato Bay of Plenty) captured her first senior national title with an impressive victory in the women’s discus. The 22-year-old athlete hurled the 1kg discus out to a best of 54.69m in round five to take out gold from Savannah Scheen (Auckland), who repeated her silver medal performance from 2021 with a best of 52.96m. Natalia Rankin-Chitar added a bronze medal to the gold and silver medals she took yesterday in the women’s U20 and senior shot with a 48.90m throw.

Both wearing tights to keep warm from the chilly and damp conditions at Newtown Park, Rosie Elliott (55.47) and Portia Bing (54.97) claimed comfortable victories in their respective heats of the senior women’s 400m. Elliott, the defending champion, and Bing, winner of Friday national 400m hurdles titles, will meet in the eagerly anticipated final on Sunday.

The one-two from the 2022 national U20 400m final were the fastest to advance in the final in this year’s senior men’s 400m as Lex Revell-Lewis (48.77) and Troy Middleton (49.30) claimed wins in their respective heats.

The main protagonists all cruised through their heats of the senior men’s 1500m. Defending champion Sam Tanner took out heat one in 3:57.28 ahead of Jack Paine (Auckland) and former champion Eric Speakman – who were awarded the same time of 3:57.76 – in second and third.

Darian Sorouri (3:55.75) edged Max Karamanolis (Wellington) by 0.01 to bag heat two as the pair eased into the final on Sunday.

There were also no dramas in the senior women’s 1500m as defending champion Laura Nagel eased through to the final on Sunday, finishing second in heat one in 4:29.20 – 0.03 behind five-time former champion Angie Petty.  Meanwhile, New Zealand women’s mile champion Rebekah Greene looked in cruise control in heat two, claiming top spot in 4:26.39 – 0.20 clear of second placed Kara Macdermid.

Blessing Sefo added the national U20 shot put title to the U18 New Zealand crown he won 12 months ago by adding 14cm on to his lifetime best with an excellent effort of 16.58m.

Just 24 hours after Percy Maka took out the men’s U20 discus title younger brother Troy Maka with a best throw of 51.55m captured the U16 discus gold.

Alfie Steedman maintained his sensational summer by completing the men’s U18 1500m and 3000m double at Newtown Park with yet another formidable display. The 16-year-old Aucklander, who also claimed the national U20 mile title earlier this year, was unstoppable over the metric mile, winning in 3.57.35 – 0.64 clear of Elliott Pugh (Waikato Bay of Plenty).

Rhys Evans denied Noah Retford an U18 hurdles double by 0.03 as the former held on to beat his fellow Aucklander in 15.15 in the 110m hurdles event. Earlier in the championships Retford had secured the New Zealand 300m hurdles crown.

Kahurangi Cotterill (Auckland) was a hugely impressive winner of the men’s U18 400m smashing his PB to take victory by a margin of nearly a full second in 49.43. Mia de Jager completed the full trifecta of medals to add U18 400m gold in 56.11 to the high jump silver and 400m bronze medals she took in the division earlier in the championships. 

Mikayla Sola (Wellington) defended her national U18 hammer title with a best for the day of 49.37m.

Imogen Barlow (Auckland) completed a memorable 800m, 1500m and 3000m treble in the women’s U16 division, securing the feat with a convincing triumph over the metric mile in a time of 4:37.64.

Rico Poutama continued his remarkable week at Newtown Park by adding the national U16 100m hurdles title in 15.21 to the U16 shot and high jump titles he snared on the opening day. The Wellington athlete also won a long jump bronze on Thursday.

Karmen Maritz (Auckland) underlined her status as the queen of the heavy throws in the women’s U16 age group by adding the discus title today with 40.99m to the shot put crown she snared on Thursday.

Results here