30 Aug 2016

Eliza McCartney's 'overwhelming' welcome home

6:05 pm on 30 August 2016

Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney has had her first taste of fame on home soil since her breakthrough performance in Rio.

The pole vaulter touched down in Auckland at 4.30am and just a few hours later she was sitting on-stage at her former North Shore school, Belmont Intermediate.

With her bronze medal around her neck, McCartney was given a hero's welcome when she walked into the school hall.

It was not something she would have expected just a few months ago, before her success at Rio turned her into a household name.

"It's a funny thing, it's quite different from when I left New Zealand, it's changed a little bit, but it's really nice and the support is just overwhelming," she said.

McCartney found herself being mobbed by students wanting to touch her medal and pose for photos.

But she did not seem to mind.

"It's lovely when it's kids though, because they're so excited and they just want to see your medal. It's really cool that they're so excited and getting behind New Zealand sportspeople."

Olympic pole vaulter Eliza McCartney meets students from Belmont Intermediate.

Olympic pole vaulter Eliza McCartney meets students from Belmont Intermediate. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Olympic pole vaulter Eliza McCartney with students from Belmont Intermediate.

Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Belmont Intermediate principal Nick Hill said it was not often you had an Olympian at your school.

"It's particularly unique for us because she's from Devonport, she grew up in Devonport and she's just captured a nation really. So it's fantastic for us to have her back here, as soon as she gets back into the country."

Mr Hill said he hoped some of McCartney's lessons about hard work rubbed off on his students.

Despite all that hard work, McCartney said she had not expected it to pay off quite so soon in Rio - her aim was a podium finish in Tokyo in 2020.

"It's pretty incredible, it's just not what I was expecting, and it's just so special as well, the fact that I went out there just to do my best and my best got me a medal."

Eliza MCartney (centre) on stage at her old school, Belmont Intermediate.

Eliza MCartney (centre) on stage at her old school, Belmont Intermediate. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Despite her Olympic success, McCartney said she did not think she had hit her peak.

"I think that it's important to keep learning, keep developing and I have lot to learn and I'm certainly not top of my game, I've got so much to keep working on and that's exciting."

The world championships were on the horizon in 2017, with medal expectations expected to be high when the Tokyo Olympics rolled around.

But she said the competition would be tough.

"It's another four years away and anything could happen. Women's pole vault is just growing very quickly and there's a lot of competitive young girls as well so it'll be very interesting. I think it will be a huge event. There's a lot of time for people to get very good."

But for now, McCartney said she would be putting her feet up for a few weeks before she got back into her early morning starts and training routine.

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