Katie Moon rises high

by admin
Katie Moon rises high

Managing to win the world title despite utter exhaustion gave the Olympic women’s pole vault champion renewed belief that she can dominate the competition

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

In reality, the 31-year-old was completely exhausted, and even making it to Eugene was an achievement in itself. Just a few months ago, an athlete used to climbing great heights “could barely get off the ground.”

Pole vaulting is a scary enough event even when you’re in your prime, so even the tiniest seeds of doubt soon grow into a wrenching force.

To experience the pinnacle of victory again, Moon had to win the biggest mental and physical battle of his career to date. However, some huge lessons have been learned and the 31-year-old feels fully energized as he embarks on another outdoor season.

How hard was last year?

It’s been a tough year. I’m really happy with how it went at the World Championships, but I had the post-Olympic blues that you hear other athletes talk about. I was going to win the biggest thing I’ve ever wanted to win and the biggest thing you can win in this sport [in 2021].

I never took a break after that and that’s what I needed. I realized after I started competing again that I was just exhausted because I never really got away from it. That’s what our off-season is supposed to be about – getting rid of it not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.

It’s definitely been a long year. We just struggled with it. It was [a case] to keep going out there day after day and putting in the effort, even though there were many days where I left practice in tears. I didn’t really jump much. During most of the jump sessions, I barely got off the ground.

Katie Moon (née Nageot) (Getty)

What did you do to regain momentum?

I wish I had this secret thing that just clicked for me, but it really just showed up even when I didn’t want it to. I was like, ‘If I can’t get it together for the US Championships to make the team, if I can’t get it together at the Worlds, then that’s my cue to maybe just hang it up. Maybe that’s what it feels like when you’re done.”

I didn’t mean for it to be, but you just don’t know.

I remember at the US Championships I needed a third attempt for an early bar where if I missed I wouldn’t have been on the team. And I remember thinking, “You’re about to find out how badly you want it. This is a big moment.”

I picked up my rod and said to myself “I’m not done yet”. I would just find these little bits here and there that fueled that motivation.

I just felt like the whole year my adrenaline was broken. I just couldn’t get the adrenaline going, even at races, and I’d never felt that way before. I made the team for worlds and I think that was such a relief and then knowing that it was going to be my last race of the year allowed me to push through the last part. I gave it everything I had left and luckily it worked out.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from this episode and what advice would you give to athletes who feel like you?

I think breaks are crucial and spending time away from the sport where you literally take yourself completely away from it – from training to thinking about it or talking about it.

Obviously, there are times when you just can’t catch a break and for me last year, even though I was struggling mentally and my jump training wasn’t going well, I was still going in and doing the lifts, still doing the work on the track.

Because of that, I was still in shape and I was still strong enough and fast enough that when I was able to pull myself together and find that confidence on the track, I could jump high.

If you can’t take time off, still come in and do what you can. Still, try to try to get out there and account for it as much as possible.

Then, when you get a break, take full advantage of it. On my days off I sit on my couch and watch TV doing as little as possible.

I like to say that I am very successful. I am not overachieving, I am not weaker. I just made it. I do exactly what’s on my sheet that my coach gives me, but the rest of the days I don’t do anything extra, I don’t do anything less. I just succeeded.

Holly Bradshaw and Katie Moon (nee) Nageot (Getty)

You were quick to defend Holly Bradshaw on social media last year after she had to withdraw from Oregon due to injury when her pole broke during warmups. How much do online comments weigh in an athlete’s mind?

It definitely affects us. I was lucky I didn’t get a ton of it myself. In the case of Holly’s broken pole, the comments people made were so offensive and just so ignorant. People just didn’t really understand the sport or even the laws of physics.

To see the ladder break and think she was milking him, it was a no-brainer to jump in and protect her and make sure she was okay. If I see one of my friends get a backlash, I’ll defend them, but it’s also an insult to the sport as a whole because it could have happened to any one of us.

A study by World Athletics late last year showed that female athletes are subject to abuse far more than male athletes. Have you seen people affected by it?

Sandy Morris got a lot from him and hers is much more personal. She’s married to an African-American man and she’s gotten some really nasty, racist stuff and it’s disgusting. Of course I try to protect what I can and call it out when I see it.

I know Holly got a lot too. I think the most I’ve gotten is just criticism of my form, people thinking they’re helping me or just criticizing the way I jump.

I have definitely seen athletes affected by this. We try to take everything with a grain of salt, but we’re human and it can definitely be frustrating.

Sandy Morris (Mark Shearman)

You’ve had a strong start to the year. How different does it feel before the World Cup, with Budapest coming up in August? (Since that interview, Moon won the US title this summer plus Diamond League events in Doha, Florence and Lausanne).

I am very excited. This year is a complete 180 from last year. Accomplishing what I did last year with the year I had, it just gave me a confidence that is now unshakeable. The rest that I so desperately needed allowed me to enter this preseason in a completely different way.

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

The USA now has to send four women, which I’ve always felt we deserved, and I’m excited about our potential this year.

Katie Moon (née Nageot) (Mark Shearman)

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

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