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Broken poles, catching COVID and ultra-clutch jumps: Katie Nageotte took wild path to Olympic gold

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·3-min read
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TOKYO — With the year Katie Nageotte has had, she perhaps should have anticipated that her performance in the Olympic women's pole vault final would be an adventure.

Nageotte missed her first two attempts at the opening height, 4.50 meters (15 feet, 9.25 inches). One more miss and she'd be done, a no-height in her first Olympic final.

She cleared it on her third try.

It took a minute to find her rhythm, but once Nageotte did she vaulted herself into a gold medal.

The Ohio native was the only woman in the competition to clear 4.90m (16-1), making her the fourth American female track athlete to win gold at these Games and the third American woman to win pole vault since it was introduced at the Olympics in 2000.

"During my warmup, my quad on my takeoff leg was really tight, like grabbing tight, and so it took more trips down the runway just to warm it up," Nageotte said. "So my warmups were not great and I think that kind of went into my first couple of attempts. But once I got going …"

Katie Nageotte was overcome with emotion after her wild year led to Olympic pole vault gold. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
Katie Nageotte was overcome with emotion after her wild year led to Olympic pole vault gold. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)

Nageotte contracted COVID-19 earlier this year. She said it was a mild case but it did fog up her brain a bit, which affected her ability to practice. She said on Thursday night that she still has trouble inside the practice facility she uses because it's too dark.

Then in May, she arrived at a meet only to discover that all of her fiberglass poles for vaulting had snapped in half en route. That turned out to be a good thing in the end; after trying poles borrowed from several manufacturers, she found one she loves and continues to use now.

And then there was early July, when she suffered through a pretty bad bout of food poisoning which derailed what was supposed to be an intense period of practice before heading to Tokyo.

She had won the U.S. Trials with a lifetime best 4.95m (16-2.75) clearance, which was a meet record and the best jump in the world this year.

Nageotte cleared 4.90m on her second try Thursday night. Russian Olympic Committee jumper Anzhelika Sidorova had missed twice at 4.85m and passed on her third, meaning she had one attempt to try to clear 4.90m. She didn't get it. 

Sidorova won silver and Great Britain's Holly Bradshaw (4.85m) won bronze.

"It's surreal. I couldn't really believe it at first," Nageotte said of watching Sidorova miss and knowing she was a gold medalist. "It's everything that any one of us here has ever dreamed of. I think especially with pole vault, it's a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck and I'm just so grateful that it went my way."

Nageotte ran into the stands to hug her coach and started to cry. She then wanted to try for Sandi Morris' American record — it's 5.00 meters, or 16 feet, 4.75 inches — and tried to gather herself. She started her approach but decided it just wasn't the time and jumped onto the mat.

Nageotte is from the small northeast Ohio town of Olmsted Falls. Dozens of friends and family gathered in a local restaurant to watch her jump, and there's a meet-and-greet planned for her with the town's 9,000 residents once she gets home.

After her father Mark died unexpectedly when she was 16, "The community helped raise me, banded around my entire family and I just felt their support from Day 1 of his passing," Nageotte said, "so I do this for them too. I know they're all rooting for me and it means so much."

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