http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/4/sto ... d=10470733
Athletics: Pole position
5:00AM Friday October 19, 2007
By Chris Rattue
Kerry Charlesworth is ranked No 1 in the world for her age. Photo / Martin Sykes
There it was, buried in last weekend's Auckland athletics results from Mt Smart Stadium like a mysterious code.
W16, W17, W18, W19.
Maybe it was a keyboard with a stutter. Or maybe it was a typo (newspaper jargon for a stuff-up).
What it represented was a giant leap for young girl-kind. Thirteen-year-old North Harbour pole vaulter Kerry Charlesworth had launched herself over 3.90m and into major calculations as a world-class star of the future.
The row of Ws indicated she now holds all New Zealand records up to under-19 level. It also left her just 5cm short of the qualifying standard for the world junior (under-19) athletics championships, even though she is too young to attend them yet.
And she has already sailed past the 3.70m qualifying mark for the world youth (under-17) athletic championships in Italy in 2009.
Charlesworth has also hit the 4m mark in training. All of this is astonishing for someone who took up pole vaulting seriously only in January.
It's a tricky business, writing about a precocious and prodigious talent. You don't want to over-state matters, yet in Charlesworth's case, those in the know believe her future may not only involve leaping the equivalent of small buildings but also climbing up an Olympic podium.
"For her age, she is now ranked No 1 in the world," said her coach Jeremy McColl, who like Charlesworth was a gymnast turned pole vaulter.
McColl, a two-time national champion, added: "It is rare to find someone so dedicated but there are only a few people who can be world champions and she is one of them."
"Kerry can be right up there among the top women pole vaulters in the world and the height she is doing now reflects that."
The Charlesworth family, of South African origin, came to New Zealand four years ago, having spent about six years in London.
John and Debbie Charlesworth settled the family on Auckland's North Shore, where Kerry and her older sisters Jessica and Philippa, and 8-year-old brother Connor, are heavily involved in sport.
Jessica, 19, is a top hammer thrower, Philippa, 16, has represented New Zealand in the javelin, and young Connor is mad on athletics and judo.
Kerry was an elite gymnast, representing New Zealand in Australia, but back and ankle injuries persuaded her to quit the sport in which she trained for 30 hours a week.
Her sisters pointed out that top gymnasts often transfer well to the pole vault, so she gave it a try late last year and came under McColl's tutelage in January.
Her rise has been meteoric, and in her first meeting of the new season at Mt Smart she was just 5cm short of Greek Ekaterini Stefanidi's record for a 13-year-old girl.
"I really want to get to the Olympics, I really love the sport and want to carry on with it," said Charlesworth before one of her nightly three-hour training sessions at the Millennium Institute.
"I always want to train more but I'm still young and don't want to burn out. My friends think I'm obsessed with it and think I'm kind of crazy, but they also think it looks cool.
"My sisters said that gymnasts have a natural ability for the pole vault so I just followed their advice and got started. The key is a lot of repetitive drills, a good coach, and to keep on training."
The Rangitoto College student is a member of Bay Cougars, one of the few clubs around the country where pole vaulting has a hold.
Her 3.90m mark beat the nine-year-old national under-19 record held by another North Shore vaulter, Jenni Dryburgh, at 3.85m.
McColl and Charlesworth are concentrating on technique at this point, which means her rise may not be so spectacular for the next year or so. She will also have to get used to using longer and more rigid poles.
But the bottom line is that New Zealand has a potential world star on its hands in what has been a curio sport in this country. Charlesworth is already zooming towards national record holder Melina Hamilton, and will have to head overseas to fulfil her potential.
McColl said he knew from the start that Charlesworth's successful and highly disciplined gymnastics background under Russian coaches Alexandre and Sasha Koudinov would be a massive advantage.
"With her gym background I could tell she had all the potential, but she is definitely something else," he said. "She's got a lot of talent, probably more than I've ever seen before in a pole vaulter in this country," he said.
"Her gym background means she doesn't have the normal fears that other girls have. Others I've trained just don't have the same disciplined technique. She's obsessed with it ... but I don't want to push her too much at the moment.
"She has spent countless hours watching the top jumpers, what their technique is. Kerry has amazing body awareness, incredible, I've never seen it before. I can tell her to change one minor thing and she will do it straight away, whereas most girls can't do that. Others can make bigger adjustments but not the very small technical ones.
"One thing I really noticed happened about a month ago. She had a crash and I told her to get straight back on the runway, which she did. She did another jump straight away.
"I've never seen that before with a girl, of any age. Normally that's it - session over. She understood that otherwise, it remains in the back of your mind. It showed she has no fear."