By Michael Gleeson and John Salvado
Australian Nina Kennedy has shown nerves of steel, overcoming a horror start to the women’s pole vault final at the world athletics championships to claim the bronze medal.
Kennedy couldn’t clear the bar at her opening height, but she then became the first Australian since Tatiana Grigorieva last century to win a pole vault medal at a world championships.
Overcoming her nervous start, Kennedy cleared the bar at 4.8 metres and vaulted onto the podium at the world athletics championships in Eugene, Oregon, on Sunday night (Monday morning AEST).
Kennedy missed her first attempt at her opening height of 4.45m and ran under the bar at her second effort, meaning she was down to her third and final try just to stay in the competition at what should have been her lazy opening height .
Undeterred, the 25-year-old West Australian then cleared 4.60m. Then she hit a rhythm and cleared 4.70m at her first effort, followed by 4.80m at her first try, and she was right among the medals.
Her personal best was 4.82, so to vault into the medals she would need to go higher than she had ever been. She pushed the bar up to 4.85m and missed twice. With her third attempt, she went for broke and pushed the bar to 4.90m. If she cleared that she’d be in the gold medal place.
She missed but was able to content herself with bronze - the first Australian medal at these championships - and left Americans Katie Nageotte and Sandi Morris battling for gold.
“I was so nervous. I cleared my opening height on my third attempt and gave my coach (Paul Burgess) and myself a close heart attack, but I came through,” Kennedy said following the event.
“Going into this, your brain goes to every possibility before you reach the track. You go to the worst-case scenario, which is no-heighting in the final, and the best case, which is clearing it. I stuck to what I know, which is following my cues, and I cleared it.
“I’m so happy with a bronze. It definitely gives me confidence going into the next few years ahead. Those girls are in their 30s. I’m still 25, so I have a few more years to crack that 90 bar .
“I think, as athletes we are so used to wanting more, but I’m going to soak this up. A bronze medal on the world stage is absolutely incredible, and I think I’m going to enjoy this feeling for the next few days and next few weeks.”
Reigning Olympic champion Nageotte won the gold on countback with a best height of 4.85m, leaving Morris in silver, a placing she is all too familiar with.
Morris has finished second at three successive world championships, and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Australian Stewart McSweyn, meanwhile, booked his spot in the men’s 1500m final on Tuesday with an impressive front-running effort in the second semi.
McSweyn made the early going and held his spot in the top five throughout, eventually finishing fifth in three minutes 35.07 seconds.
Countryman Ollie Hoare bowed out in the other semi.
Matthew Denny could hardly have been more impressive in the men’s discus qualifying round.
Denny opened up with a solid throw of 64.89m and then bettered the automatic qualifying standard in the second round with 66.98m - just nine centimetres shy of his PB - to confirm he will be a real medal chance in the final on Tuesday.
After just missing out at the same stage at the Tokyo Olympics, Alex Beck was thrilled to advance to the semi-finals of the men’s 400m.
Beck was fifth in his heat in 45.99, but 2012 Olympic finalist Steve Solomon (46.87) was eliminated.
Competing at his fifth world championships, Nick Hough (13.42) was run out in the semi-finals of the 110m hurdles.
Jack Rayner was 19th in a 10,000m final won by Kenyan powerhouse Joshua Cheptegei, who is chasing the 5000-10,000m double in Eugene.
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