Pole vaulter with Saskatoon ties heads to Olympic final

Anicka Newell is on her way to her first Olympic finals.

The pole vaulter is a dual Canadian-American citizen who lives in Texas and competes for Canada. Her mother’s family is from Saskatoon and, though she hasn’t been able to visit since the onset of the pandemic, she says the Bridge City is her “home away from home.”

In the pole vault qualification round on Monday, Newell cleared every jump she attempted — including a final leap of 4.55 meters — to qualify for the finals, which start Thursday at 4 a.m. CST. She is the only Canadian in the final.

Here are five things to know about the athlete as you tune in to watch her event:

1. She’s looking for Olympic redemption

Newell had never made a national team or been to an international competition when she was named to Team Canada for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I was very young and immature and I just crumbled under pressure for sure,” Newell said last month as she embarked for Tokyo.

Even though she had cleared 4.67 metres to qualify for the Games, once there she only jumped the opening height of 4.15m and failed to advance to the finals. She finished tied for 29th in a 34-woman field.

This year, she says she’s ready to be in medal contention.

2. She started her athletic career as a gymnast

Newell didn’t try pole vaulting until she was in Grade 11. Before that, she was a gymnast.

She tried pole vaulting because her high school’s track coach thought Newell’s gymnastics background would help her excel in the sport and ultimately bolster the school’s track and field team, which was in search of more female athletes to compete in the field events.

3. It wasn’t love at first vault

Newell didn’t enjoy pole vaulting when she first tried it.

“Being a gymnast, I feel like all of the movements make sense and with pole vault it really just doesn’t,” Newell said. “You are jousting and your whole body is crooked and your hand placement on the pole, everything just felt weird to me. So I didn’t much care for it to be honest.”

But the more Newell practiced, the better she got and she eventually earned a track and field scholarship to Texas State University.

4. The one-year delay of the Games gave her time to recover from injury

Last year, Newell was nursing a “pretty serious” Achilles injury.

“I had expected to make the Olympic team still, but I didn’t know what my chances were of actually competing well,” she said.

Now, with an extra year of preparation behind her, she feels 100 per cent healthy and more prepared than she would have if the Games had gone ahead in 2020.

5. The finals are on her birthday

The pole vault finals on Aug. 5 fall on Newell’s 28th birthday.

If that’s not a sign, she doesn’t know what is.

Read more about Newell in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and stream the pole vault finals live at