Athletics

Katie Moon is rising high

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Managing to win the world title in the face of complete exhaustion has given the women’s Olympic pole vault champion renewed belief that she can dominate her event

On the outside, it looked like 2022 had been the perfect year for Katie Moon. When the American added the world pole vault title, on home soil, to the Olympic gold she had won in Tokyo, it appeared that she was riding the crest of a particularly impressive wave.

In reality, the 31-year-old was completely exhausted and even getting herself to Eugene had been an achievement in itself. Just a few months previously, an athlete accustomed to scaling great heights was “barely getting off the ground”.

The pole vault is a scary enough event even when you’re at the peak of your powers so even the smallest seeds of doubt being sown soon grow into a constricting force.

To experience the high of victory again, Moon had to win the biggest mental and physical battle of her career so far. Some huge lessons have been learned, however, and the 31-year-old is feeling fully energised as another outdoor season starts to unfold.

How difficult was last year?

It was a tough year. I am really happy with how it panned out at the World Championships but I had -Olympic blues that you hear other athletes talking about. I was coming off winning the biggest thing I’ve ever wanted to win and the biggest thing you can win in this sport [in 2021].

I never really took a break after that and it’s what I’d needed. I realised once I started competing again that I was just exhausted, because I never really stepped away from it. That’s what our off-season is supposed to be for – getting away from it, not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well.

It was definitely a long year. We just kind of battled through it. It was [a case] of still getting out there day after day and putting in the work, even though there were a lot of days I left practice in tears. I really didn’t vault much. During most vault sessions I was barely getting off the ground.

Katie Moon (née Nageotte) (Getty)

What did you do to rebuild the momentum?

I wish I had this secret thing that just clicked for me but it really was just showing up, even when I didn’t want to. I said to myself: “If I can’t muster it up for the US championships to make the team, if I can’t muster it up at the World Championships, then that’s my sign to maybe just hang it up. Maybe this is what it feels like when you’re done”.

I didn’t want that to be the case but you just don’t know.

I remember at the US champs, I was down to a third attempt at an early bar, where if I missed, I was not going to be on the team. And I remember thinking, “You’re going to find out right now how badly you want it. This is a big moment.”

I picked up my pole and I said to myself “I’m not done yet”. I would just find those little bits here and there that kind of pushed that motivation.

I just felt like, during the whole year, my adrenaline was broken. I just couldn’t stir up adrenaline, even in competitions, and I had never felt that way before. I made it on to the team for the worlds and I think that was such a relief and then, knowing that was going to be my final competition of the year, it allowed me to push that last bit. I gave it everything I had left and thankfully that worked out.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from that episode and what advice would you give to athletes who find themselves feeling like you did?

I think breaks are crucial and having time away from the sport, where you literally get away from it completely – from practice to thinking about it or talking about it.

Obviously, there are times where you just can’t take a break and, for me last year, even though I was struggling mentally and my vaulting practices weren’t going well I was still coming in and doing lifting, I was still doing the work on the track.

Because of that I was still fit and I was still strong enough and fast enough that when I was able to put it together and find that confidence on the runway I could jump high.

If you’re not able to take a break, still come in and do what you can. Still try to try to get out there and make it count as much as possible.

Then, when you do get a break, take full advantage of it. On my rest days, I am sitting on my couch watching TV, doing as little as possible.

I like to say I’m very much an achiever. I’m not an overachiever, I’m not an underachiever. I am just an achiever. I do exactly what is on my sheet that my coach gives me but, on the rest days, I’m not doing anything extra, I’m not doing anything under. I’m just an achiever.

Holly Bradshaw and Katie Moon (née) Nageotte (Getty)

You were quick to defend Holly Bradshaw on social media last year after she had to pull out of Oregon through injury when her pole snapped in the warm-up. How much do online comments weigh on an athlete’s mind?

It definitely impacts us. I have been lucky in that I haven’t received a tonne of that myself. In the case of Holly’s pole breaking, the comments that people made were so insulting, and just so ignorant. People just truly didn’t understand the sport or even just the laws of physics.

To see the pole break and thinking she’s milking it, it was a no-brainer to jump in and defend her and make sure that she was okay. If I see one of my friends receiving backlash, I’m going to defend them, but it’s also an insult to the sport in general because that could have happened to any one of us.

A study from World Athletics at the end of last year showed that female athletes are targeted for abuse far more than male athletes. Have you seen people affected by it?

Sandi Morris has received a lot of it and hers is a lot more personal. She’s married to an African American man and she has received some really nasty, racist things and it’s disgusting. Of course I try to defend what I can and call it out when I see it.

I know Holly’s received a lot, too. I think the most I’ve received is just critiques on my form, people thinking they’re helping me or just criticising the way that I jump.

I’ve definitely seen athletes affected by it. We try to just take everything with a pinch of salt, but we’re human beings and it can definitely be frustrating.

Sandi Morris (Mark Shearman)

You have made a strong start to the year. How different do you feel ahead of the World Championships, with Budapest coming in August? (Since this interview Moon has won the US title this summer plus Diamond League events in Doha, Florence and Lausanne).

I’m very excited. This year has been a complete 180 from last year. Accomplishing what I did last year, with the year that I had, it just instilled the confidence in me that is kind of unshakeable now. Having the time off that I so desperately needed allowed me to come into this pre-season entirely differently.

My pre-season was better than ever and I know that this next year-and-a-half [with the Olympics coming next summer] could be really fun. I am very excited for outdoors. Having the bye [qualifying automatically as the defending champion] is huge and not having to worry about the US trials is amazing.

Now the US get to send four women, which I’ve always felt like we have deserved and I’m excited for my potential this year.

Katie Moon (née Nageotte) (Mark Shearman)

» This feature first appeared in the June issue of AW magazine, which you can read here

Katie Moon is rising high appeared first on AW.

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