Road To The Olympic Games

Destroyed poles blessing in disguise for Alysha Newman

Canadian pole vaulter Alysha Newman will return to the runway at the 44th Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meet in Oregon on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 4 p.m. ET) three weeks after her poles were damaged on an Air Canada flight to Qatar.

Canadian-record holder says Diamond League meet is 'building block' to achieving Olympic gold

Canadian pole vaulter Alysha Newman used poles from a local club to compete at the season-opening Diamond League meet in Doha, Qatar, on May 4 after eight of hers were damaged during an Air Canada flight. The airline has since bought her new poles at a cost nearing $10,000 and she’ll put some of them to the test Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

​Pole vaulter Alysha Newman wonders if having her equipment destroyed during a recent Air Canada flight followed by a strong performance in Qatar on little sleep and with borrowed poles has made her a more effective athlete.

"It might have made me a better athlete knowing I was able to handle the adversity and perform decently," the London, Ont., native told CBC Sports earlier this week before boarding a flight to Oregon ahead of the 44th Prefontaine Classic on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 4 p.m. ET). "Like I tell everybody, the equipment doesn't make the athlete, the athlete makes the athlete."

On May 4, Newman used poles from a local club in Doha to place seventh at the season-opening Diamond League meet with a clearance of 4.54 metres, one day after eight of her $1,000 poles were snapped in transit. She remembers asking her fellow competitors to examine the loaned poles to make sure they bent properly and being mindful of not risking injury at the beginning of a new season.

Canadian pole vaulter Alysha Newman is thrilled after getting eight new poles. She anticipates feeling more comfortable after competing at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday, but adds she won't be on all of them until later in the Diamond League track and field season. (Anson Henry/CBC Sports)

"I probably slept one or two hours the night before the competition," she said. "I had some mental problems on the [pole vault] runway earlier this season with getting on bigger poles and getting comfortable. I finally felt comfortable after the Commonwealth Games [in April] and then this happened.

"I guess God's testing me this year, making me as strong as possible for world championships [next year] and the [2020 Tokyo] Olympics."

Last Thursday, Newman drove to Buffalo to pick up a new series of poles shipped from the United States, courtesy of Canada's largest airline. They are similar to the Carbon Mystic vaulting pole the 23-year-old had used for five years, so it's now a matter of breaking them in.

Canadian champion pole vaulter Alysha Newman finished in 7th place in the pole vault at the Diamond League meet in Doha, while using borrowed poles. Her own poles arrived broken following her flight to Doha. 0:42

Newman, who noted she "felt good" during the first and only practice with the new poles before Tuesday, isn't worried about a slightly upgraded pole affecting her performance.

"Any pole you keep bending one way," she said, "it's going to develop a soft side and mould to your hands and jumps. I'll probably feel a little more comfortable after this weekend [in Eugene] depending how many jumps I take. There are eight poles so I won't be on all of them until later in the season. It'll take time to get the feeling that they're not new poles anymore."

Newman lashed out at Air Canada shortly after discovering her damaged poles on May 3.

"I've put my trust into you as an airline to get my poles and equipment safely to my competitions, spending thousands of dollars weekly on flights and poles," Newman posted to her Twitter account. "This is how you treat people's stuff? It's a shame, you let me down."

'I should have been more mature'

Air Canada asked her on Twitter to send a booking reference so it could investigate further to which Newman responded: "DM you??? I'll get a sorry and then maybe a 200$ reimbursement? Let's see how you guys fix this! I'm excited to see how your [sic] going to replace $10,000, cause that's how much it will cost me."

"The second tweet was a little aggressive and I should have been more mature," Newman said this week. "Every time I go into Toronto, Air Canada knows me and takes care of me. It wasn't Air Canada's fault since they hire companies to handle baggage. It was definitely a lesson learned, and [both sides] learned."

After Newman's poles were broken en route to a competition in Doha, Qatar, CBC Sports' Anson Henry was there when her new poles arrived courtesy of Air Canada. 1:01

Newman anticipated being nervous Saturday on the runway when putting up her hands to see how the new poles bend.

She's also excited about being part of a star-studded field of nine women, including reigning Olympic silver medallist Sandi Morris of the U.S., who won in Doha after clearing 4.84 on her final attempt. Great Britain's Holly Bradshaw (4.64) and American Katie Nageotte in a season-best 4.64 rounded out the podium.

Also competing at the lone Diamond League meet held in North America Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, the 2016 Olympic champion in Rio, New Zealand's Eliza McCartney and 36-year-old American Jenn Suhr. McCartney jumped 4.70 at the Commonwealth Games to earn a silver medal behind Newman, who matched her personal best of 4.75 to shatter the Games record of 4.62. Last year, the former hurdler and gymnast defeated Suhr, a former Olympic champion and U.S. record holder, at the Adidas Boost Boston Games.

"I'm really excited because I feel I've jumped really high. At the beginning of the season I pretty much matched how I finished last year," said Newman, who cleared 4.70 at the world indoor championships in March to improve upon her Canadian record. She jumped 4.75 at the Diamond League final last September in Brussels to match her outdoor national mark.

"I know the [Prefontaine Classic] record is 4.72 so I would be proud to clear that, and being in the top three is always a big thing. To put up high bars and show I deserve to be there would be a building block to my big goal of winning an Olympic gold medal."

About the Author

Doug Harrison

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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