D-Day looms for Eliza McCartney as injury clouds world champs participation
Eliza McCartney's renowned positive disposition is facing its toughest test as the Kiwi pole vault phenomenon battles a debilitating Achilles tendon injury that leaves her world championships hopes hanging in the balance.
The Olympic bronze medallist has revealed exclusively to Stuff from her training base in Germany that a meeting this weekend in Belgium could determine whether or not she takes part in the world athletics championships in London starting August 4.
It's a D-Day of sorts for the darling of New Zealand sport who has had her world champs buildup wrecked by the nagging injury which has left her unable to train at full capacity, let alone compete.
The 20-year-old Aucklander has been working furiously to rehab what has been diagnosed as tendonitis in her Achilles tendon to return to a position where she's at least able to compete effectively at her first world championships.
But she admits it's a major concern this close to the year's pinnacle event, with her participation in London reliant on some key improvements being made this week.
"It's a really hard one. I haven't quite come to a conclusion yet (on the worlds) because there's still time for things to get better," she told Stuff. "After competing I will have a much better idea on the likelihood of being in London.
"I want to be there. It's still the plan. But I really don't know yet."
Which is where the Night of Athletics meet in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, on Saturday (Sunday morning, NZT) comes in. McCartney and coach Jeremy McColl will head there aiming to use the pole vault competition as a sort of test event for London.
"It's quite soon, but we don't want to leave it too close to the world champs," she added. "If I can do that it will be really, really promising for London. That's the goal."
It's been a testing time for the naturally buoyant McCartney who started her year in such promising fashion, with a PB and Oceania record 4.82m clearance at February's Auckland Track Challenge that still stands as the third best height jumped in the world this year, and just 3cm off the top mark.
"It's pretty hard to be positive the entire time, but last year I learnt how to handle these situations a lot better. Of course you have your down days, but overall I have a clear mind on what I'm doing and why I'm doing it," she says.
"It's much easier to keep seeing the positives, and to keep working on what we need to and not get too far ahead of myself and be concerned about things I really can't control."
Besides, it's a situation the champion pole vaulter is becoming used to dealing with.
McCartney revealed that last year, during her captivating run to the Olympic bronze medal in Rio, she had also worked through similar problems with her Achilles.
"I had probably the exact same thing last year, but I don't think it was as bad," she said. "I was still able to do some training and I was still able to compete, and it was just a bit sore.
"This year it's just a little bit more. It's come back to bite me again, so I've got to really nail it on the head this time."
The Kiwi athlete and her coach are mixing rehab with technical training that is not putting too much strain on the Achilles and the hope is "we can get it to a point where I can compete comfortably and it won't affect my performance".
That's a best-case scenario, and with at least a couple of months rest and recovery needed to clear the injury up completely. McCartney says she's trying to stay as positive as she can in challenging circumstances.
"Injuries are such a big part of sport and you need to be able to deal with them mentally so when you get back out there you're not stuck in a negative cloud.
"This has completely changed our buildup, but I've been able to focus on other aspects I wouldn't normally put as much into. So we've been doing a lot of technical work on the high bar which will help me.
"Every day there is progress, and we're staying confident, I've got a great team around me and I'm doing everything I can. So if it doesn't work out, there wasn't anything I could have done better."
Making the best of a tough road? McCartney takes a moment. "Yeah, you could say that."