Our newest national pole vault champion has a perfect pedigree.

Liz Parnov Vault Liz Parnov Vault
Image: Getty Images

Liz Who?

If you were paying attention at the Beijing Olympics, you’ll know the name Parnov. Alex Parnov is the coach of pole vault gold medallist Steve Hooker, among numerous others. Since he was shafted from the Russian team in favour of an “up and coming” Sergey Bubka (the current men’s pole vault world record holder at 6.14m) in Helsinki in 1983, Alex has built a small empire around his coaching abilities. Liz is his latest product.

Born in Moscow but now residing at the athlete factory they call the WAIS, Liz isn’t your average 16-year-old. She qualified no. 1 at this year’s nationals for the Delhi Commonwealth Games. She cleared 4.40, the highest ever cleared by a 15-year-old.

“It feels pretty cool, like, making a Commonwealth Games team at 15. When Vick made it in ‘06, I thought to myself, ‘There’s no reason why I can’t do that.’”

That’s her sister, Vicky, 19, another of the Parnov clan. Until this year, Vicky held the family spotlight, competing internationally in multiple world youth championships and at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in ’06. But this year she missed the squad by one spot after missing her third attempt at 4.20m ... Liz pipped her. “I remember the first time I ever beat her, it was in a little inter-club comp; she didn’t know how to take it and it was a bit awkward for a few hours after.” As far as sister rivalries go, however, theirs is productive. “Now it’s good. We help each other because we’re at each other’s level now.”

What’s her story?

For a girl who’s had her path blazed, chiselled and spit-shined, Liz Parnov is one motivated young woman. “She follows her own set of goals and I think that’s a very important, very good quality for an athlete,” says her aunt-in-law, one Tatiana Grigorieva.

From the days playing with Vicky in the long jump pit while her Dad coached Grigorieva, the sport has been a part of her life. Vicky took it up when she saw her aunt take silver at the Sydney Olympics; Liz was dragged along, where she played in the sand pit while Vick trained. Slowly, naturally, Liz started to take an interest. “It just kinda happened. It wasn’t really planned or expected, it was just the way I was brought up.” As Grigorieva says, “She’s got the right ingredients for good results.”

And the ingredients list is extensive. First of all there’s the fact that pole vault has taken off in this country over the past three Olympics, meaning there’s no shortage of support. Season that with some exposure to some of the top vaulters Australia has nurtured: Dimitri Markov, Emma George, Steve Hooker and Grigorieva. Finally, add some self-motivation and watch her rise and separate herself from the best athletes in the world.

Grigorieva believes this is her best attribute. “One of the main ingredients is that she’s got her own desire, her own will to jump well, to jump high and achieve something ... It’s totally up to her where she takes it.”

Who’s she like?

Tall, blonde, slim and looks good in green and gold lycra? It’s hard not to liken Liz to her aunty-in-law Tatiana Grigorieva. With one major difference: Liz began training more than six years before Grigorieva even took the sport up (at age 21). That’s a big advantage if she keeps it up.

According to Grigorieva, the obvious comparison is between the sisters, who have a four-year age gap. But in terms of top athletes today? “From the top ten girls in the world, I can’t see anyone I can compare them to.”

– Keiran Deck

What Do They Say?

“She’s unique. She’s a very tall, slim girl and that requires a different technique to other smaller body types. I think Liz will do very well, and she deserves all the success she gets.”

– Tatiana Grigorieva, Sydney Olympics silver medallist