In the first of our series in which Stuart Weir speaks to reigning world champions, pole vault winner Stefanidi shares her experience of striking gold in London two years ago
What do you remember about the London 2017 World Championships?
I remember the whole stadium dancing with great songs playing – both when I was jumping and during the ceremony the next day. That is definitely my No.1 memory. I remember very much the feeling of confidence. I went into the competition and I almost knew that I would win. I think that’s very important in any event but especially in the pole vault when it is such a mental event. And now I’m finally getting that feeling back.
What does it mean to you to be world champion?
That’s a hard one. It is something that you dream of as a kid and I think for me maybe more than other people because I started so young – I started pole vaulting aged 10 and even before that I was already doing track and field. The idea of being Olympic champion, world champion, European champion was this big goal and my dream from a very early age. Even at 12 years old I would cross the road and I would say “you need to be very careful because if you get hit by a car, how can you be world champion and break the world record?” I mean, a 12-year-old doesn’t think that way. My parents and coach at the time pushed me so much to think that way and that’s probably why I care so much more about medals right now than I do about records. It’s hard to say exactly what it feels like but I think that gives you an idea of how important it is for me.
“I almost knew that I would win”
As world champion, Olympic champion and European champion do you feel unbeatable?
I don’t! My coach would like me to, but I don’t. Every year is new and I think you build that confidence, of going into the meeting feeling like you will win no matter what, throughout the season. So for me, every year is new. I was European champion last year but now I need to come out and jump good again and build that confidence. And kind of catch up mentally with where I am physically. But there is definitely some confidence and it is not just me being confident, it’s about the other girls thinking ‘she has been able to perform well when it mattered’ but at the end of the day I still need to do it again.
How do you peak for Doha when it is such a long season?
I would almost say that it is an advantage for me because every year it takes me a little while to get used to the longer poles because I mostly only use them in competition. With having an extra month to the season I think it would allow me to do a few more competitions, be a little more consistent and maybe be able to raise my grip. I’ve said in the last three years that the only thing I think I’m missing from breaking the world record is the grip. I have pushed as far as (three-time world champion Yelena) Isinbayeva has, I’m just gripping lower on the same poles. Every year by the end of the year I slowly raise my grip but now I have an extra month or maybe a little more and I think it can definitely get us a little closer to those five-metre or five and above heights.
Click here for more interviews in the series.