Olyslagers sets bar for Paris Games

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Sydney University Athletics Club member Nicola Olyslagers’ march toward gold at the Paris Olympic Games later this year took another step when she won the women’s high jump at the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow on Saturday.

Olyslagers, a member of the Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness Elite Athlete Program, cleared 1.99m on her third and last attempt to claim gold at her first indoor competition and become the club’s first ever world champion.

With her main rival, Ukraine’s defending champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh, having suffered one less failure and already over the same 1.97m height, Olyslagers knew it was a do-or-die leap for gold.

“The first two attempts at 1.99 were just off,” she told AAP. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I jumped this two weeks ago at the Maurie Plant meet (in Melbourne) on a cold night outdoors with a headwind. I know I’ve got this inside of me’. I had a decision to make – was I going to listen to these doubts, or do what I needed to do? Next thing I knew I was running and it was rhythmic, and it was a 10 out of 10 jump. The gold medal is just the icing on the cake.”

Egged on by the packed Emirates Arena crowd, Olyslagers’ effort pressured Mahuchikh into a third failure at 1.99m and she settled for silver with her 1.97 effort, while Slovenia’s Lia Apostolovski claimed bronze with a PB leap of 1.95m.

The Glasgow competition won, Olyslagers had three cracks at 2.02m to no avail, but the 27-year-old celebrated becoming the eighth Australian to win gold in the Indoor Championships’ 39-year history – and the first since Sally Pearson in the 60m hurdles in 2012. “I’m feeling really thankful,” Olyslagers said. “I went into the competition willing to challenge myself knowing I hadn’t competed indoors before, and I actually wasn’t aiming for the medals.”

Olyslagers came to notice when she won the silver medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. Russia’s Maria Lasitskene won gold with a 2.04m leap, ahead of Olyslagers (2.02m) and Mahuchikh (2.00m). She then claimed bronze at the 2023 World Championships in Budapest with a 1.99m clearance, the same height as countrywoman Eleanor Patterson, who claimed the silver medal. Mahuchikh cleared 2.01m to win the gold medal.

A duel between Olyslagers and Patterson at Glasgow never materialised when an out-of-form Patterson withdrew earlier in the week to concentrate on her Olympic preparations. Patterson had claimed silver and Olyslagers bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

“What I love is that we are both so unique in the way that we jump, the coaches we have, the lifestyle that we have,” Olyslagers said. “Australia has done really well in complementing where we are, rather than putting us into a box where it has to be done this way or that way.”

Having equalled the Oceania record of 2.03m in her season opener outdoors in January, Olyslagers and Mahuchikh, the 22-year-old World Indoor and Outdoor champion, are the only jumpers to have cleared 2m in 2024. Bring on the Paris Games.