Katie Nageotte On Her Road to Her First U.S. Title: “It Still Doesn’t Feel Real”

By Jesse Squire

February 21, 2018

Pole vaulter Katie Nageotte had an absolutely bonkers competition last Sunday at the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championships. Entering the meet with a one-month old PR of 4.76 meters (15-7¼), she first tied it and then broke it three straight times with 4.81 (15-9¼), 4.86 (15-11¼), and 4.91 (16-1¼). She never had a miss until attempting a new world record and in the process she defeated World and Olympic medalists Sandi Morris and Jenn Suhr. If Al Michaels had been announcing it, he would have asked, Do you believe in miracles? YES!

It’s part of a journey that started in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, led through two universities and a then-struggling career as a pro which has now given her a new contract with Nike on Wednesday. The key has been always improving; she has broken her PR in 14 of her 15 seasons, and now has more national championships (1) than high school state championships (0).

Katie gave us some of her time to talk about what happened and how she got there.

You had the kind of meet that dreams are made of. What has life been like since Sunday?

Honestly it still doesn’t feel real. I’ve never double PR’d in one meet before (let alone 3!), so typically there’s a bigger build up leading into big bars and PR’s. I usually have to attempt a PR several times before it will stay up, so that fact that it all happened on Sunday is insane and my emotions haven’t quite caught up yet! With that being said, I knew it was something I was ready and capable of doing, it was just a matter of putting it together on the right day. The amount of support I’ve been receiving is extremely humbling and it’s so cool seeing how many people have been reaching out to congratulate me! I’m unbelievably excited and happy, but having shots at the world record was incredibly motivating and I’m refocusing to have good practice sessions to be ready to do something big in Birmingham.

You’ve been steadily improving every season, but even before the nationals this looked like your best season yet. What have you changed — or is it a matter of simply doing the same thing and always doing it better?

About a year ago, I moved out to Washington to train with American Record holder Brad Walker. He has changed so much of my vault for the better but the biggest improvement has been in my mental game. I used to be a very timid vaulter and I wouldn’t really charge into the jump. I relied on a lot of external things like feeling good, having adrenaline, getting a tap every jump in practice just to get off the ground. He stripped all of the emotional things away and made it about just coming down and hitting cues the same way every time. I’ve never had confidence coming down the runway like this before and that’s definitely the biggest improvement.

From a technical standpoint, we’ve really focused on a better pole drop. If your pole gets too low too early, which mine always did, you’re having to hold it in an awkward position, leaning back to balance the weight in front of you. The last thing you want to do going into a takeoff is lean back. By keeping the pole straight up until a few steps away from the takeoff, it can free-fall effortlessly allowing you to really charge and jump into the takeoff.

We’ve also really worked on the takeoff itself. This sport is all about energy and putting as much energy into the jump as possible. When I came to him, I was letting the pole pick me up off the ground, swinging immediately instead of driving forward. You don’t have as much control over the jump when this happens, and your limited as to how big of poles you can get on. Ideally, you want to get on the biggest pole you can. By driving forward jumping into the takeoff, getting your chest through and your bottom arm up, you’ll be able to get on much bigger poles, ultimately tossing you higher.

The top vaulters these days competed at Stanford (Stefanidi) and Arkansas (Morris). What led you to Ashland University?

I went to the University of Dayton out of high school and the coach left after my second year. I always said that if he went anywhere, I’d transfer to Ashland. I had friends that went there, I really liked the coach and they have a great track program. It was a huge blessing in disguise. I really struggled mentally at Dayton with all the changes of a new coach, a new environment, and making changes to my technique. I lost a lot of my confidence in my vaulting and had a bad run-through problem, but I would have been too stubborn to make a move without the coach leaving. My coach at Ashland was incredible and built my confidence back up. What I love about this sport is that it doesn’t matter where you go to school. Division doesn’t matter. What matters is how much work you’re willing to put in, clicking with a coach and buying in 100%.

I agree, the “right” college is different for every student, athlete or not. Going back further, how did you get into the pole vault? And what, if any, other sports did you do when you were young?

In 7th grade I joined the track team and the first day I saw the high schoolers pole vaulting. I knew right then that I needed to try it. I was a gymnast when I was younger and loved anything involving adrenaline and upper body strength. I begged my coaches for days to let me go try it. Finally, at the end of one practice a couple days later, the coach out of sheer annoyance said, “Fine go try it”. All 80lbs of me walked over to the pole vault pit where the high school coach was working with a girl on the team. He let me try it and I’ve been hooked ever since!

I also played golf and did swimming and diving through high school.

Now that you’ve broken through into the top tier of the world’s pole vaulters, how do you anticipate it changing your summer season in terms of your competition schedule? Or haven’t you even thought that far yet?

Haven’t given a ton of thought to outdoors yet. I spent this indoor season pretty tunnel visioned on making the team. Now that that’s happened I’m keeping my focus on performing at Worlds. I will definitely compete at the diamond league meets, but aside from that we’ll see!

Thanks for your time and good luck in Birmingham. I’m pulling for you.

(Photos for this article were provided by our friend Milton Lau. Follow him on Instagram: miltonlauphotography)

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Jesse Squire

I was second in the 1980 Olympic* long jump. (*Cub Scout Olympics, Pack 99, 9-10 age group.)