Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Australian high jumper Nicola McDermott aims for medal in Tokyo, uses platform for Christ

Twenty-four-year-old Australian high jumper Nicola McDermott has dreamed of leaving Tokyo with a medal around her neck in her first taste of Olympic competition, and she may be peaking at just the right time to make those dreams come true.

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While at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, McDermott won a bronze medal with a jump of 1.91 meters — a personal record. Only a year later, she bested it with a jump of 1.96m to qualify for these Olympic Games. Following a jump of 1.98m in Germany in 2020, McDermott set an Australian record with a jump of 2.0m this past April.

On July 4, only a month before she would compete on the world’s largest stage, she recorded yet another personal-best jump of 2.01m. She later posted about it on Instagram.

“2.01m PB, Area Record!!!” McDermott said. “I cannot thank everyone enough for helping this dream become a reality. God is good.”

 

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A post shared by Nicola McDermott (@nicolalmcdermott)

Part of the reason for her success in the sport may be how critical she is of her own performance. McDermott spoke with The Guardian in March about how she grades her performance in various categories.

“I do that faithfully following every jump,” McDermott said. “I’m there with my pen. I never get 10 out of 10 — there is always something to work on.”

McDermott said that by doing this, she’s better equipped to fix any mistakes. Instead of getting upset by her shortcomings, she uses them to improve on her next jump.

“My rating system is objective rather than subjective,” McDermott said. “That helps me detach the emotion from it all. It focuses me on action — what do I need to do next?”

McDermott’s rapid rise continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but following her return to Australia from European competitions, she was forced to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel. In her room, she had time to think about her faith and how she could leverage her position for God’s Kingdom. She left quarantine with a curriculum for other athletes through which she could share her faith in Christ.

McDermott wrote on her website, “The development of this course has allowed us to teach athletes across multiple continents of the fundamentals of faith and birthed a new branch of discipleship in our ministry.” The ministry she refers to is Everlasting Crowns, which she started in 2017 with a friend. It aims to minister to other athletes as well as disciple them in their walks with Christ.

She credits her own faith as being instrumental to her success as an athlete, as well as the secret to contentment in Christ no matter the results in her sport.

“I pursued sport so hard until I was 20 that I thought that was what would make me happy — once I was an Olympian, once I reached something, then I’d be happy.” McDermott told The Guardian. “I got to a level where I had everything I ever dreamed of, but I was still dissatisfied — I realised I had put my identity into performance and achievement. Faith for me was realising that I am loved regardless of performance — high-jumping is simply a way to connect me to God.”

Now, she says, it’s her faith and not her athletic achievements that defines her life.

“I do a lot of athletics, but I also do a lot of ministry,” McDermott said. “I keep the focus on making my identity outside of sport — I do sport, but it’s not who I am. That’s been the breakthrough for me — realising that my performance does not determine my identity. Once you do that, you realise that it doesn’t matter whether you win the Olympics or come last, you’re still the same person.”

She continued later, “My faith is the reason I have stayed in the sport so long. Faith is the confidence in things you haven’t seen, right? Two metres — when I was an eight-year-old, jumping 1.15m — you need a bit of faith to believe in that.”

Yet she persisted, and 16 years later jumped higher than any Australian woman ever has:

McDermott knows nothing is guaranteed in Tokyo, but a medal is in her sights.

“I don’t take [Olympic competition] for granted — I know it could be cancelled — but if it goes ahead I will be enjoying it and taking it all in,” she said in March. “It will be a miracle. But I am going there with a mission to get a medal — I will enjoy it, but I have a game plan.”

McDermott and her high-jump competitors will take center stage as the women’s high jump qualification begins Thursday morning in Tokyo (Wednesday night in the U.S.). The final round will take place Saturday.

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