Eleanor Patterson on the Commonwealth Games 2022: “I’m coming full circle but I’m a completely different person”

The Australian high jumper who won gold at last month’s 2022 World Athletics Championships returns to the Commonwealth Games where she triumphed as a teenager in 2014. After leaving her sport in 2018, the 26-year-old has returned with renewed passion - and the results are speaking for themselves. 

By Sean McAlister
Picture by Getty Images

Eleanor Patterson was only 18 when she soared to gold in the women’s high jump competition at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

A precociously-talented teenager, it seemed as if the Leongatha-born athlete had the world at her feet.

Just a year earlier, in her first international competition, Patterson had won gold at the 2013 World Youth Championships.

However, all that would seem a lifetime away when at age 22 she stepped away from a sport she had fallen out of love with after failing to be named on the team for her home Commonwealth Games that took place on the Gold Coast in 2018.

“I didn’t step on the track for over a year, I didn’t step in a gym for over a year, I was virtually just sitting on the couch and just working and just trying to find who I was,” Patterson revealed in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com the day after she won high jump gold at last month’s World Athletics Championships 2022 in Oregon.

“I’d fell out of love with the sport. I was not competing well, I wasn’t enjoying myself, I wasn’t enjoying the environment I was in.

“I needed to step away, and it took me over a year to really decide that I wasn’t finished, that I still had more within me.”

A new environment breeds new hope

Following those 12 months away from athletics, Patterson felt the desire to return to sport and work on fulfilling the immense potential she had shown as a junior.

After teaming up with new coach Alex Stewart, the now 26-year-old began the process of building herself up again to be able to compete at an elite level.

It was a journey that was punctuated by doubt and uncertainty, but the new-found happiness she felt in her training environment pushed her forward.

“I knew within myself that I could come back, that I could do more,” she said, reflecting on the days and months that followed her return to the athletics field in a world that was rapidly changing around her.

“I’ve been back for three years and it’s been an up and down journey with injuries and obviously COVID interrupting it but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Eleanor Patterson of Team Australia competes in the Women's High Jump Final at Tokyo 2020
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Tokyo 2020 - a catalyst for confidence

One turning point for Patterson was last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. The camaraderie that came with having a strong team around her allowed her to experience those Games in a way she would not have felt possible just two years before.

“It was phenomenal,” she recalled. “I didn't realise how much it meant to be back on a team. That was the first team for me and just even being named in the Olympic Squad, I was just so over the moon.”

With that happiness came a strong performance, as Patterson overcame the disruption of a pre-season stress fracture to finish fifth in the Olympic final.

And perhaps more than the result itself, it was the confidence those Games bred in her that gave Patterson the platform to believe in herself going forward.

“[Tokyo 2020 in 2021] was a big step in confidence and also just being able to have my first season on the European circuit and Diamond Leagues and whatnot was a big boost in confidence and challenged me in so many facets that are now going to carry me through in so many facets of confidence,” she told us.

Reaching new heights in 2022

This year, Patterson has really come into her own.

At the World Indoor Championships in March, she battled for gold with Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh. The Australian eventually won silver having cleared two metres for the first time in her career.

But the outdoor World Championships were where everything really fell into place.

After a nervous moment where she failed her first two attempts at 1.98m, Patterson went on to clear 2.02m with her first jump to put herself in a gold medal position she would not relinquish.

Her victory made her only the 10th Australian World Champion in athletics history.

“I feel like this has been such a pivotal moment in my career,” Patterson said of her win in Oregon. “Who would have thought that me sitting on that couch in 2018 I would be sitting in this spot right now.

“If you told me that I would not believe you. I still don’t believe you, I still don’t believe what happened!

“It’s incredible. I’m just really proud of myself.”

A full circle return to the Commonwealth Games

Today, Patterson is gearing up to compete in the Commonwealth Games. It represents a return to the scene of her first major triumph, but also the competition that caused her to give up the sport when she failed to qualify for the Australian team in 2018.

“It feels like I’m coming full circle but I’m a completely different person in so many facets,” she explained, looking back on the journey that has taken her through the highs and lows of the sport.

But these Games will be different. She enters them as a World Champion with all the freedom that brings along with it.

So don’t be surprised if she puts on a show in the final on Saturday (6 August).

“I feel like I’m just going to go to the Commonwealth Games and just have fun and just let go. Not be so intense and serious about it,” she said ahead of her departure for Birmingham, England.

“The element of high jump as an event, it’s such a funny thing, it’s almost like a performance and creative outlet in so many ways, everyone does it differently.

“So the element of letting go, who knows what it can bring to fruition. I’m really, really excited.”

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