Stefanidi Triumphs In Second Ultimate Garden Clash
The Olympic champion, vaulting at her home track in Greece, managed 34 clearances in the allotted 30 minute time period to beat fellow competitors Alysha Newman and Katie Nageotte, competing in Canada and the USA respectively.
Their battle followed the efforts of world record holder Mondo Duplantis, Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie, and world champion Sam Kendricks, who cleared five metres 98 times between them earlier this month.
Stefanidi admitted she had "meticulously studied" the men's competition and raced into an early lead with 10 clearances in just over seven minutes. She achieved an impressive 19 in fifteen minutes, at which point the athletes were allowed a half-time break.
That left the event delicately poised, with American indoor champion Nageotte on 16, and Commonwealth champion Newman on 12, bringing up a total of 47, exactly the same as the men at the same stage two weeks ago.
Family members and support staff were on hand to keep score and inform the competitors of how much time was left. But no one could assist with the weather, as Stefanidi and Nageotte both battled with humid conditions. The American, who has an outright personal best of 4.91 metres, joked that the challenge was the equivalent of a "marathon for a pole vaulter".
The last few minutes were exciting as she closed Stefanidi's lead down to 31-29 as the tiring Greek reset her own bar following a failure.
Yet Stefanidi showed the strength that has helped her lift so many international titles to squeeze in a 34th successful clearance, compared to 30 for Nageotte, 21 for Newman, and a combined total of 85.
"I had a ton of fun. I wish it had been a little cooler”, the 30-year-old commented after winning. "It was a challenge for me in many different ways. It put so many elements together; endurance, speed, power, technique. If I put the bar up faster, I think I could have pushed it a bit more."
Second-placed Nageotte said: "The fact that I hit 30 - and I know I had absolutely nothing left at the end - I'm so happy!” She added: "It's draining but it's really fun to rep it out when you're tired because it gives you good practice for competitions".
Stefanidi agreed that the unusual format could pay dividends in a traditional competition: "You have to shut your brain off and just make the bar and sometimes you have to just do that in pole vault".
Newman, who achieved her Canadian national record of 4.82 metres in both Paris and Zurich on last year's Diamond League circuit, was glad that spectators were able to enjoy the clash around the world.
"This was for everyone tuning in and watching me, to show everyone it's such a precision sport."
She admitted that the adrenaline of competing again got to her: "I was getting too excited and I was too happy to be doing it. Next time I'm definitely going to take a deep breath and walk back and not jog back!”
With the live stream entertaining thousands of athletes and fans, many have called for a vault-off between the men's and women's winners. Unsurprisingly, Stefanidi didn’t turn down the challenge: "I'll be down, just give me three weeks", she said.
Alex Seftel for the Wanda Diamond League