The second edition of the Ultimate Garden Clash will be held on Saturday 16 May with three of the world’s best female pole vaulters facing off in a virtual competition from their respective home bases in Greece, the United States and Canada.
In the inaugural Ultimate Garden Clash two weeks ago, male pole vaulters Mondo Duplantis, Renaud Lavillenie and Sam Kendricks set the bar high by making a collective 98 clearances in 30 minutes, with Duplantis and Lavillenie tying for the win with 36 clearances each.
But the female pole vaulters – Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi, two-time US indoor champion Katie Nageotte and Commonwealth Games champion Alysha Newman – believe they can match or better the men’s tally.
Under a competition format devised by the male vaulters to get around the absence of officials due to coronavirus lockdowns and the need for social distancing, the winner will be the athlete who can clear the bar the most times.
The women have agreed to set the bar at 4.00m (world record is 5.06m) for their challenge. They will be connected by video link from their local training facilities as none of the women have the necessary equipment in their own gardens as the men did. Streamed on the World Athletics YouTube, Twitter and Facebook pages, the competition will be held on Saturday between 6-7pm CEST – weather permitting – and will span three locations. Stefanidi will compete in Athens, Nageotte in Marietta, Georgia, and Newman in Bolton, Ontario.
It will be a test of technique, consistency, concentration and stamina – all qualities that are required in a normal pole vault competition, just measured in an alternate way.
The first Ultimate Garden Clash was popular with fans as 250,000 watched live from around the world across the three platforms. More than one million people from more than 90 countries had watched the broadcast within 24 hours.
From the moment that Stefanidi watched the men compete online, she was eager to be part of the concept and challenge the standard they set.
“At first when I watched the guys make 98 (36, 36, 26) bars I thought it would be impossible. But then when I tried it I wasn’t too far off. It’s a fun way for the women to take on the men.
"I feel like most people would expect the guys to win in a head-to-head, so if they did, it won’t mean too much. But I think the way this is designed it is very possible – or at least just as likely – that we beat them, either as a group, or individually. The reason it is important to win is so that we can have bragging rights for the rest of our careers [laughs]. But it is also important to show how competitive the women's pole vault is right now.
“We calculated the equivalent to the guys’ 5.00m for elite women would have been around 3.85m, but we felt 4.00m was a more digestible number. So we are jumping at a relatively higher bar which might cost us a couple of clearances (each) but I think despite that, we can still aim for 100.
“For me competition is the reason I do athletics," she added. "I love pole vaulting but I love competing in pole vault more. As athletes we can’t just train to train. We need competitions to test not only what we have been working on but also our limits. I think competitions are even more important during these challenging times when we really don’t know when and where we will be able to come together in person to compete next. It increases motivation and gives clarity to training.”
Nageotte is also delighted to have the opportunity to return to competition in an unexpected way.
“This format is so much fun!," said Nageotte, whose indoor PB of 4.91m matches Stefanidi's outdoor best. “It’s non-stop action which is extremely appealing to fans. There is constant entertainment with the vaulters trying to take as many jumps as possible in a short time, and that’s something sports fans really appreciate. This format is also very simplified. Everyone is jumping at the same bar (height) as many times as we can. There’s no passing, height changes, or other aspects of the pole vault that can sometimes lead to confusion for spectators. It’s as head-to-head as it gets and we all love a good head-to-head competition!”
Newman added: “Just like a normal competition, I'm planning on taking one jump at a time. It’s still a little chilly here in Canada so I will definitely have to layer up. My number one goal is to leave the bar up so I don’t lose time putting it up. It will be awesome to compete against these ladies because I’ve been dying for a competition but we are definitely trying to beat the guys’ number of jumps put together.”
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said he was delighted that the first Ultimate Garden Clash had proved to be a hit with athletes and fans.
“I’m excited by the potential of this creative project and I want to thank the athletes for so enthusiastically creating and embracing this concept. We know there’s a real appetite among athletes and fans to return to competition but we need to do that in a way that is careful and respectful of the measures put in place by public health authorities around the world so we can keep our community safe, and modern technology has allowed us to do that.
“This is a concept that we hope can be adopted or adapted by some of our Area Associations and Member Federations around the world to help their athletes get a feel for competition again until they can return to more normal meetings, which we hope can happen later in the year.”