Olympic and world pole vault champion is expecting a top contest as she defends her European indoor title

It hasn’t been a completely smooth season for Katerina Stefanidi so far, but the Olympic, world and European pole vault champion has the benefit of vast experience behind her as she gets ready to defend her European indoor title in Glasgow.

As even her friendly rival Holly Bradshaw pointed out, Stefanidi “delivers when it matters”.

Since securing European silver in 2014, the Greek vaulter has gone on to claim two outdoor European titles, Olympic gold in 2016, the world title in 2017 and two world indoor medals, as well as her European indoor win in Belgrade in 2017.

Illness has affected her build-up this winter but the 29-year-old remains confident that, when she takes to the Emirates Arena runway on Saturday morning, she’ll be ready.

“I’ve been sick now for a month so it has been a bit of a rough time because we came in so excited and ready to jump high and all that is keeping me back is me going into the competition and not feeling good, not in terms of my muscles or physically, but in an illness way,” she explained ahead of competing at the Müller Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham, where she finished fourth with a 4.71m clearance.

“I think right now there are a couple of girls that can really push me.

“I know in Glasgow I’ll be ready for what I have to do.”

Bradshaw is one of those athletes who will be doing the pushing, the British 2018 European bronze medallist having won in Birmingham with a clearance of 4.81m – her joint second best-ever after the UK record of 4.87m she achieved in 2012.

Three other entered athletes have also cleared 4.81m or higher this season, with Russia’s Anzhelika Sidorova – competing as an authorised neutral athlete – top of the rankings thanks to her 4.91m clearance in Madrid.

With the field so closely matched, it makes first-time clearances even more important.

“You can’t have misses,” added Stefanidi. “You have to make bars on the first attempt, which is something I am good at, so that’s exciting.”

Stefanidi’s win in Belgrade two years ago actually started with her knocking the bar off during her first attempt at her opening height of 4.55m, however. Balance was restored as she went on to clear 4.65m, 4.80m and her winning 4.85m, all on her first attempts.

“I made things hard for myself there. That was one of the most pressured situations I’ve been in but the way my attitude changed in that competition was very important for me,” Stefanidi recognised.

“You are the reigning Olympic champion for four years but every year is a new year, you have to jump the same heights again.

“I think that realisation helped me get back to the 4.80m and 4.85m jumps again and just focus on how I am doing and not how other people are doing and whether I am beating them or not. When I was able to do that, I was able to beat them too.”

She added: “I think I am better outdoors because I am very consistent. I think not that many girls can do what I do outdoors and make high jumps on first attempts which matters. That’s how I won the Olympics.

“I think indoors is a little harder for me because there’s no conditions so most girls jump what they can jump. I jump what I can jump also, but I jump the same outdoors with bad conditions so I have an advantage there. Indoors pushes me a bit in terms of heights.

“I think there’s clearly right now a couple of girls that will battle it out for the medals but I think that I’m physically ready to win,” she added.

“This is not something I usually say, obviously our first goal is to make the final and then to get a medal and then to win. But from the very first competition this year I felt like I am back in this kind of shape where I can have an indoor PR and I think right now in the pole vault it’s all about whether and how much I believe that.”

» Click here for our preview guide to the European Indoor Championships, including some key clashes, schedule, TV info and top travel tips

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