Nicola Olyslagers Budapest

Nicola Olyslagers is in Ireland where the thermometer is predicted to peak at an unholy eight degrees today (real feel five degrees), but while the Olympic silver medallist shivers in the cold Eire as she prepares for next week’s World Indoor Championships in Glasgow, she’s warmed by both a special memory and a sense of duty.

Before jetting out for her assault on the Glasgow World Indoor Championships high jump competition  – where she’ll go head to head with fellow Aussie Eleanor Patterson and duel with Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh – Olyslagers won the prestigious Maurie Plant Meet in Melbourne.

And while her victory was sealed by a confidence boosting 1.99m effort in Victoria’s cold and blustery conditions, the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) scholarship athlete said the reaction of the crowd at Albert Park’s Lakeside Stadium made an indelible mark with their painted signs of support for her and by cheering each warmup jump as though she was in the Olympic final.

“I was surprised because you see that in other countries,” said Olyslagers. “But to be in Melbourne and to actually meet the people and realise that they were genuinely invested in wanting to see me do well was special.

“I thought ‘oh, wow.’ It just felt really good.”

Added to that was her conversations with her supporters – especially the young, female high jumpers  – galvanised Olyslagers’ resolve to make the seemingly improbable possible to them.

Olyslagers, who is the Oceania record holder via her Personal Best of 2.03m, has been joined by Patterson [PB 2.02m] in helping to inspire the nation’s next wave of high jumpers. Indeed, she knows full well the notion that people need to see it to either be it or do it.

 “I remember the first time I saw a woman jump two metres in real life, and just realising ‘oh wow, it is possible, and it is doable,’” she said, enthused by the memory. “That started to open up something [in me] because high performance became, almost, tangible . . . almost touchable.

 “And to be able to do that for the next generation coming through – and there’s a lot of hopefuls coming through, [I hear children say] ‘we’ve just started high jump’ and I think it’s cool for me to be able to compete at their track and do what they could be able to do in the next few years.”

Olyslagers said it was her hope Australia’s crop of exciting young guns, including 19 year old NSWIS scholarship holder Erin Shaw and boom 16 year old Izobelle Louison-Roe will push their peers in the same manner she and Patterson have since they were teenagers.

“One of the greatest things growing up was knowing Eleanor had such a standard of excellence, even from a young age – and she still does,” said Olyslagers. “And Eleanor is such an amazing competitor you know no matter what shape she is in you just know that when she’s ready to compete something good will come.

“She brings an excellence to the sport, especially in competition. One of my favourite [periods of competing against her] was in 2020 when we were competing each week together and we were both doing Personal Bests.

“First and second. She’d win, and I’d do the same height as her but [it came back to] a countback. I learnt to love the importance of first attempt clearances through her. But, it was always drawing out, When I have a competitor who is jumping the same height as me, I know I’m going to be able to do something I haven’t been able to do by myself.

“It’s the same with my overseas competitors. When I see a woman jump over two metres, I get excited. It’s like ‘OK, we have another one in the mix!’     

“Growing up with that, and seeing that, meant when I competed with my overseas competitors that environment drew the best out of me. Even with the future Australian women high jumpers it’s my hope they can see something in what the top athletes are doing  and think ‘wow, this is possible, and this is what it looks like.’

“I’d like them to think ‘she’s not much different to me’ and [play a part to] draw out the gold in them so they can settle and reach their full potential.”

Patterson, who was the 2022 world champion and seized silver at last year’s World Championships in Budapest, the event where Olyslagers claimed bronze, will chase her fourth consecutive global medal when she competes in Glasgow.

“It’s a big but very exciting year this year,” Patterson told Athletics Australia. “Everyone puts their heart and soul into their preparation, and being an Olympic year, you see incredible performances and people rising to the occasion and having performances of their lives.”

As she prepares to tangle with Olyslagers and Mahuchikh, the world outdoor and indoor champion, Patterson said she’d need to raise the bar for a chance to stand tall on yet another global podium.

“Women’s high jump right now is certainly an impressive field and I know I’ll be up against very tough competitors,” the NSWIS scholarship holder said from Europe. “All I can do is back myself and go out there and put my best foot forward. I think medals this year will be needing a two-metre plus jump to be snapped up.

“I believe in myself going into this and I believe in those around me who help me each and every step of the way.”

Daniel Lane, NSWIS, with Athletics Australia

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