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Stacy Dragila Interview - Part 2


Stacy Dragila Interview - Part 2

American Stacy Dragila celebrates her victory at the 2000 Olympics.

Tony Feder/Getty Images
American pole vaulter Stacy Dragila was the first woman to win a pole vault gold medal at the World Indoor Championships, the outdoor World Championships, and the Olympic Games. She also set numerous world records. In the second half of her About.com interview, Dragila recalls her pioneering successes, and how she saved her 2000 Olympic medal hopes when she was on the brink of elimination.

How did you feel about your first World Indoor Championship in 1997?:

“I was really nervous. And I wasn’t even expected to. I went in there and the girl that was supposed to win and was the big favorite win (Emma George of Australia), she just had a cruddy day, and I said, ‘Well, I better step up to the plate.’ And I came out with a new PR (4.40 meters; 14 feet, 5¼ inches), and a world championship. And I think that was kind of the awakening, I think, of the women’s pole vault. Not because of me, but just that we were on that platform. And that was that first step to getting into the Olympics and being recognized internationally. And more and more women were competing, obviously. And so it was that first mark to being in the record books, per se, and the rest just kind of followed suit. It was fun to be that first person and to kind of get the ball rolling.”
Were the first World Outdoor Championships in 1999 similar?

“I think I was leading the world at that time, so, obviously, I was always afraid that someone was going to knock me off my pedestal. So that was kind of a different situation for me. Training I thought was a little bit more serious. I think you’re more mature. ... So you’re kind of honing in and focusing, and I think just taking it to that next level. And there were a few new girls in the mix – the who’s who in the pole vault – and we just kept taking the bar higher and higher. So that was fun as well. It was a long, drawn-out competition. But fortunately I came out on top and it was another medal for me” (Dragila cleared a then world-record 4.60/15-1).

How much different, mentally, were the Olympics the next year?

“I think you put way, way, way too much pressure on yourself because it is the Olympics. I think it’s something that so many people dream of being a part of, that now it’s kind of in your face and a reality. And the biggest thing for me, going into the (American) Trials, was this negative self-talk that I was giving myself – ‘What if I screw up?’ Because I was leading, and I was pretty far ahead of my U. S. competitors, that I started just going, ‘If I screw this up I could not make the team.’ So luckily I started using a sport psychologist and that really helped me kind of calm myself and bring myself back to center. And when I started having those negative doubts, he really helped me, gave me some tools to really defuse those things and block them out. And that gave me a lot of confidence going into the Trials and helped me sleep a little bit better at night, because I would stay up just thinking of stupid scenarios. And I don’t know why it just crept into my mind, but I think as an athlete you always know someone’s trying to get to you and you’re always trying to stay one step ahead. But I’m sure everybody goes through these different peaks and valleys of their career. That was one of those times that I was really kind of stressed out.”

What was it like when you had to clear 14-9 on your third try to avoid going home without a medal?

“Fourteen-nine (4.50 meters) – a jump that I had jumped many, many times. It was, ‘Holy crap, Stacy. Get your business together.’ I think I was just a fan of the sport as well and I think obviously the adrenaline – there were 110,000 people in the stadium – that was something I had never experienced before. And the night of my final was also the night of Cathy Freeman and Michael Johnson (both in the 400 meters). It was an historical night of track and field. And I’m out there trying not to be a fan, trying to be a participating athlete. It was hard to just focus on my event. And I think that was the hardest thing. I think as soon as Cathy had started her race, everybody was cheering and clapping, and basically the flag was up on my runway that I needed to go. And I had always encouraged people to clap for me, so everybody’s cheering for Cathy but I just kind of said (to herself), ‘Everybody’s cheering for me!’ And it kind of just brought a calm to me. Because it wasn’t like I always wanted people looking at me, but for me it just kind of brought me to center. The crowd was clapping but it was kind of like this noise that I really didn’t hear. But they were doing something and I was doing my thing. And I was able to separate the two things and I just thought of me running down this tunnel, or down my runway, and I’ve just got to plant this pole and I’ve got to be good on the pole and technical. And I was over and that was just a huge relief off my shoulders.”

What do you remember about your winning Olympic jump, at 15-1?

“Well it was crazy, because I had jumped that bar in practice. Actually, I think I had jumped 15-6 in practice at the training site. I was on a roll. But just being in the Games, there’s just way too much energy going on and too much adrenaline. To then jump that bar, I was like, ‘OK, that’s a good jump.’ But I knew Tatiana (Grigorieva) was on a roll, too, and I’d never seen her jump so well. And she did really well with the crowd. I didn’t know if it was the winning jump, and it was down to her last jump to see if she made it, and she didn’t. And it was just kind of surreal that I had won the (gold) medal.”

Are you at a point now where you look back at your career and consider yourself a pioneer?

“I’m glad I was a part of that because I feel that I’ve been able to touch a lot of young athletes. And I think I made myself available for athletes to be able to come to me and ask questions, and kind of be an inspiration to them and let them know that I didn’t start pole vaulting when I was in high school. I was 23. I was pretty old as an athlete, to start an event. And to be able to progress that quickly and win a medal, I tell the kids the sky’s the limit. If you really focus in and have passion for something, you don’t know what you’re able to achieve. And so I just try to always let them know that – to let them dream, whatever age they are. If you work hard at something and you surround yourself with positive people that believe in you, I think anything’s achievable. And that’s kind of the message that I always try to tell my kids, and the kids that come up to me.”

Read part 1 of Stacy Dragila's interview.

Read more about the pole vault:
Introduction to the Pole Vault
Beginner's Track and Field: Learning the Pole Vault
Olympic Pole Vault Rules
A Comprehensive Look at Olympic Pole Vault
Greatest Moments In Olympic Pole Vault

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