Stuart Weir is our journalist in Rome for the 2024 European Athletics Championships. This is his piece on two British pole vaulters that he has interviewed many times, who are in different places in their careers. 

A tale of two pole-vaulters

It was a qualification for the women’s pole vault.  To make the final, the requirement was 4.55, or the top 12. Molly Caudery, World Indoor Champion, came out, did her warm-up drill, and waited.  The bar started at 4.10, 4.25 and then 4.40.  Molly waited. 29 vaulters were divided into two pools on parallel runways.  Molly’s pool saw 50 vaults before she was ready to take her turn.  At 4.50, Molly stepped up, vaulted, cleared 4.50, and went back to the hotel for lunch.  Job done.

Holly Bradshaw was in the other pool.  At the Tokyo Olympics, Holly took a bronze medal.  Since then, the journey has been difficult.  In the warm-up in Oregon for the 2022 World Championship, a pole snapped.  She fell awkwardly, and that was her season over.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – JUNE 26: Holly Bradshaw of Blackburn celebrates after setting the new national record during the Women’s Pole Vault Final on Day Two of the Muller British Athletics Championships at Manchester Regional Arena on June 26, 2021, in Manchester, England. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

In 2023, she struggled with a best of 4.61 – her PR is 4.90 – and failed to make the final in Budapest.  This year, she competed just once, which required her to confirm her place in Rome and achieved 4.50. During this difficult period, she also split from her long-term coach, Scott Simpson, and relocated to the North West of England, where she grew up. She is currently self-coached with input from Kate Rooney; she has confirmed that 2024 will definitely be her last season.

Her post-competition comments were: “I have been struggling with my Achilles a little, but my Achilles felt good. On the warm-up track, I put my back out. I did it three weeks ago, and I just got rid of it. But today I was literally doing an innocuous jump and I put my back out and I was like ‘oh great’. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the warm-up; I had a lot of run-throughs because it was going into extension.  As I am coming to the end of my career, I am having thoughts like what if I really hurt myself, what if I hurt my back and I can’t play with my kids. I struggled a bit on warm-up, but then I did get going. I was on a pole that was too small to clear the bar. It is crap, but I’m trying not to live in the minute; I’m looking at the bigger picture”.

This is Molly Caudery. She has just won the world indoor title in the pole vault. Molly delivered at WIC Glasgow 2024, photo by Martin Bateman

Molly is in the opposite stage of her career.  It is just taking off – World Indoor champion and five vaults of 4.80 or higher this year.  She commented: “As pole vaulters, we always expect that (a long wait), but you know the weather is lovely, so it isn’t too bad! I’ve got ice towels and ice packs just to put round my neck to keep nice and cool out there, I just stay in the shade as much as possible and not move around too much. Simple things, really. I was really, really happy to save some energy and do one jump and have my best preparation for the final”.

Already, the 24-year-old Scott Simpson coached athlete looks the one to beat – if you can.