Road To The Olympic Games

Alysha Newman: 'I want to make a statement' at track and field worlds

A much more confident and consistent Alysha Newman, who finished 17th at the Rio Olympics, will make her debut at the track and field world championships Friday. "We feel like she's bubbling under the surface and ready to explode," says her coach, Doug Wood.

Canadian record holder in women's pole vault eyes jump of 4.80m in London

Canadian pole vaulter Alysha Newman is hoping to reach her season goal of 4.80 metres at this week’s track and field world championships in London England. The 23-year-old says she has jumped 4.65 six times in 2017, including a season-best 4.71. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports/File)

​One year later, Alysha Newman still gets goosebumps talking about her Olympic debut.

Despite her victory in the women's pole vault at the Canadian Olympic trials a month earlier with a jump of 4.40 metres, a 22-year-old Newman was extremely tense upon her arrival in Rio de Janeiro, marking the beginning of her emotional experience.

The night before her event, the London, Ont., native was filled with anxiety, unsure if she should leave her smartphone on airplane mode and concerned if she did, whether the alarm set for 5 a.m. would go off.

Newman left the phone on vibrate. Big mistake. "I was shocked at the number of people texting me," she recalled.

Newman shook off a broken sleep, enjoyed a great warmup the next day at Maracana Stadium and cleared 4.45 on her first attempt. But her body didn't feel right.

"I almost relaxed, thinking, 'I'm good, I got this.' But I was too relaxed, jumped the gun and my head already had me in the final," Newman remembered. She went on to miss all three attempts at 4.45.

"I knew I was done," said Newman, who failed to make the final and finished 17th overall. "I felt so confident. For some reason, at 4.45, the adrenalin let go. I will never forget that feeling and will never look ahead until there is a 'Q' for qualified beside my name."

Now 23, a more confident and improved Newman will get her chance at redemption starting Friday in the qualifying round of the track and world championships at London Stadium in England, with the women's pole vault final Sunday (CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET). She missed the 2015 worlds with stress fractures in each foot.


Since Rio, Newman has made adjustments on the runway to create more pole speed and better recover energy out of the pole that has led to her clearing 4.65 six times by her count this season, her first as a professional.

Another reason for Newman's consistency and success on the Diamond League circuit and elsewhere in 2017 is her return to Canada after finishing school at the University of Miami. It's the first time coach Doug Wood at Bolton Pole Vault has worked full-time with Newman in their four years together.

Wood, who ranks second all-time in Canada in men's pole vault behind defending world champion Shawn Barber with a lifetime best 5.65, is seeing the rewards of getting Newman in an environment "where she's not in control of a situation" such as practice or in Diamond League action, something he and coaching partner Zeke Krykorka identified as a weakness of Newman after the Rio Olympics.

"Bouncing back and forth between two coaches the past five years stymied [Newman's] potential," Wood said in reference to Jerel Langley at U. of Miami. "I think having that consistent approach, seeing her every day, working and talking … has raised her game a lot.

'She's ready to explode'

"We feel like she's bubbling under the surface and ready to explode."

Newman, who started pole vaulting at 16 after two fractured vertebrae forced her to retire from gymnastics, believes she's ready to reach her season goal of 4.80. Ekaterini Stefanidi, the Greek champion who is undefeated in seven outings this season, won the Rio competition, clearing 4.85 along with silver medallist Sandi Morris of the United States.

"I've worked so hard at my technique to create a lot of space between the pole and me, getting my hips up as fast as I can when the pole is rolling," said Newman, who feels Elena Isinbaeva's world and world championship records of 5.06 and 5.01, respectively, are within her reach. "I want to go into a competition knowing I will jump 4.75, 4.80 on a good day or bad.

"I want to be a medallist at worlds and the Olympics. I want to do that for Canada. For myself, this is my dream, my job, what I live for day in and day out. I just need that one meet to prove myself. I want to make a statement."

4 other emerging Canadian female athletes

Brittany Crew: The 23-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., has achieved the women's world qualifying standard of 17.75 metres six times, including her throw of 18.32 to win at the Canadian championships last month. On May 20, Crew improved on her national record with a throw of 18.58 in Tucson, Ariz. Two days earlier, she broke Julie Labonte's mark of 18:31 that stood since 2011. Crew finished 9th in her qualifying group at the Rio Olympics.

Crystal Emmanuel: She put an exclamation point on her breakout season July 18 by shattering Marita Payne-Wiggins' 34-year-old record in the women's 200 metres, sprinting to a 22.50-second finish in Ireland. A 25-year-old Toronto native, Emmanuel enters worlds on a high following her double gold-medal performance (100 and 200) at the Canadian championships in Ottawa. Last August, she finished 23rd in the 200 at the Rio Olympics.

Liz Gleadle: While the Vancouver athlete is not in the typical "emerging" years at age 28, Gleadle has rebounded strongly from a back injury suffered in March 2016. The two-time Olympic javelin thrower continues to threaten her Canadian record of 64.83 metres, topping out at 64.47 at London Stadium in England just two days after throwing 60.62 to win at the Canadian track and field championships in early July.

Sage Watson: The 23-year-old has accomplished plenty since her 11th-place finish in the women's 400 hurdles at the Rio Olympics. Watson capped her NCAA career with a victory at the Division I championships on June 10 in a personal-best 54.52 seconds, just 0.13 seconds off Rosey Edeh's Canadian record from 1996. In Watson's two years at the University of Arizona, the native of Medicine Hat, Alta., never finished outside the top four in any 400 or 400 hurdles race.

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