Saturday 10 December 2016

Meet Tori Pena: Ireland’s first and only pole vaulter from California

Barry Lennon

Published 16/08/2016 | 09:54

TORI PENA insists doing better than her first Olympics is not good enough as she prepares for the women’s pole vault at 1.45pm this afternoon.

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The American-born Irish woman exited the London 2012 after failing to clear the first 4.1m on three attempts in the qualifying rounds.

She admits that overcoming “the devastation” of the Games was particularly difficult, surmising that her head was firmly placed in the sand.

“I was in sort of disbelief that anything bad was happening. I thought ‘surely I’ll be fine,’” she said.

“I was extremely confident going into London which was frustrating but there were problems happening in the warm-ups which I thought would work themselves out.

“I just think I’m a bit more pro-active as an athlete. I’ve learned to respond to bad situations.” 

Pena has learned to overcome adverse situations seen recently when losing her pole travelling to a Diamond league meet in Doha this year.

She was forced to use other competitors' poles, which she didn’t suit but saw the competition out despite the mishap.

The 29-year-old, who divides her time between her family home in California and her training in Phoenix, Arizona, qualifies for Ireland through Derry grandmother Angela McCoy (nee Coyle).  

But Pena only realised she could compete under the Irish flag when a Mexican coach tried to poach her talents for the Latin American nation.

She is unable qualify as her Mexican roots are too distant.

However, it got her thinking about becoming Ireland’s first pole vaulter, which she did by gaining citizenship in 2010.

“I finished college I was looking to continue jumping and I didn’t have the level to make any US teams. I got inspired by the idea to reconnect with my roots and travel to Europe,” she said.

Up until then, Pena’s visits to Ireland had been confined to family and another passion – Irish Dancing.

An Irish dancing competition in Killarney was the reason for her first visit to Ireland in 2003.

“I was very seriously involved with Irish dance only to give it up when pole vault got more serious.”

Pena remains coy about having a “concrete goal” for Rio but a result improving on London "wouldn’t be a success" for her.

“The goal for Rio is to feel like a competitor. The final is going to be extremely tough. Jump right and not get too outcome orientated but if you’re in the Olympics you want to be in that final.”

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