From New Zealand to Scotland – a Q&A with High Jumper Sarah Cowley

AAC14_4308 Sarah Cowley
Ellie Kormis

Ellie Kormis

ALTIS Director of Education

As she sat and watched the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, a young girl from New Zealand was mesmerized by Track and Field. 20 years later, Sarah Cowley’s Olympic dream was realized in person – as she walked into the stadium at the 2012 London Olympic Games to compete in the Heptathlon.

Since competing in the 2012 Games as a Multi Eventer, Sarah has more recently focused her attention on one event – the High Jump. A decision which paid dividends as she recently secured a place in the New Zealand team to compete in the High Jump at the Commonwealth Games – taking place in Glasgow, Scotland this summer.

In this Q&A with Sarah Cowley we talk to her about her journey, the people who have inspired her, and her experiences at Altis.

Sarah, thanks for joining us. Let’s start at the very beginning. How did your athletics career start, and what led you in the first instance to Combined Events?

I started doing athletics with a bunch of other sports in high school. My first coach was a teacher my high school and she was a former athlete. She invited a group of us to come and do come training and then it just naturally progressed from there. I was drawn to CE because of the variety, challenge and the ultimate test of athleticism. I had done some jumping and hurdling and then the next step was to try out the heptathlon. I fell in love with the heptathlon and thoroughly enjoyed the roller coaster ride it brings!

What are your current PR’s?

Heptathlon 6135 points. 100m Hurdles 13.83s. High Jump 1.91m. Shot Put 13.22m. 200m 24.96s. Long Jump 6.28m. Javelin 41.93m. 800m 2.14.0.

Who is your current coach, and where is your main training base?

Elena Vinogradova, and I am based in Auckland, New Zealand at the Millennium Institute – which is our National Training Center.

Your greatest achievement to date?

Competing at the 2012 Olympics.

Who have been the most influential people in your career so far, and what have they taught you?

My parents – who taught me to love what you do and have fun doing it, dream big and then get after it – and most importantly never, never, never give up.

What are your goals for this year?

Jump higher than any other NZ women in our high jump history. I am currently second all time and the NZ Rec is 1.92m. If I can do this I at the right time I will tick off a few others too. For me my major championship is the Commonwealth Games…stay healthy first and foremost though!

What brought you to Altis?

I was very fortunate to met Dan Pfaff in the lead up to the London Games when I spent a week with him in Lee Valley, UK. I have keep in contact as he is very a special man and a huge help to me physically and mentally in the lead into the Olympics. I was keen for more magic and really keen to train with the other Altis athletes. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to have more time with Dan and team at the Altis.

“I believe Altis is the gold standard”

Sarah Cowley

What are your thoughts on the environment here at the Altis?

The environment is high performance. It is an extremely professional setup where your needs as an athlete are the priority but the team are genuinely interested and supportive of you as a person as well. I really enjoyed the level of detail and the amount of planning into the program and center. It’s exciting to imagine what the future will bring for Altis.

How does this differ from your usual training environment?

Definitely not as warm! We have 4 million people in NZ so we are limited in our resources and athletics is sadly a minority sport. I guess because of this we have to be creative. I believe Altis is the gold standard and whilst I am extremely grateful to be based where I am in NZ in some areas (for example access to therapy track side) we are not there yet.

A lot of our top track and field athletes are overseas based so we do not have the same level of contact with them in NZ. I train in the NZ High Performance Sport Gym alongside our National Women’s Rugby 7s team, Hockey teams, Kayakers and Sailors for example so their needs are very different to a track and field athlete. It was great in Phoenix to be alongside so many track and field athletes.

What key take home points did you take away from your last visit to Altis?

1. Greater technical understanding of my running pattern and my run-up.
2. Treat inflammation like the plague!
3. Fascial health is imperative.

And lastly, in your opinion, what is the single most important quality that drives athlete success?

Courage. To chase something that most people would believe is not possible. To take your body and mind to places you probably don’t want to visit. To keep going. To surrender to the pursuit.

Sarah Cowley is on Twitter. You can also keep track of her progress via her website at

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