McDermott set to soar to a medal in Tokyo

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Australian high jump superstar Nicola McDermott is crystal clear about her priorities in sport and life.

Track and field is extremely important.

But her Christian faith will always come first.

Importantly, McDermott has been able to combine the two pillars so well that she will head to the Tokyo Olympics as one of Australia's best medal hopes in the Games' most iconic sport along with middle-distance king Stewart McSweyn.

With her favourite Biblical passage from 1 John 4:18 written on her wrist for inspiration, the 24-year-old became the first Australian to ever clear the two-metre mark at the national trials in April.

McDermott further extended her Australian record to 2.01m at the July 4 Diamond League meet in Stockholm - good enough for third spot on the 2021 world rankings and four centimetres better than the gold medal-winning effort by Spaniard Ruth Beitia at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"It was in 2017 when I decided I was happy to be very public about my faith because that's more important to me than my sport," McDermott told AAP.

"That's been a really important foundation to have.

"Because of the media exposure, having nothing to hide is awesome.

"It gives me a much greater purpose of why I'm doing sport.

"To be honest, high jump is hard on the body, mentally and with the dieting and so on.

"Most people wouldn't sign up for it, even if they had the gifts or the talent for it.

"Knowing I can have a greater impact on people through high jump, with an example of what faith might look like in a sporting setting, it marries in very nicely together."

Four years ago, McDermott helped set up the ministry Everlasting Crowns with like-minded track and field stars who also happen to be Christians.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, the opportunities for them to meet in person for prayer meetings or Bible study have been limited in the past 18 months.

Being so open about Christianity is much more common among track and field stars from the United States and the Caribbean than it is for leading Australian sportspeople.

But it sits very comfortably with McDermott, so much so that she is happy to be the main point of contact on the international circuit.

"The chaplains know if there are a few athletes who want to get together they send them my number and we meet up," she said.

"We did that in Stockholm and it's really special, almost like a family.

"Faith has always been my priority and it seems that for every performance, God just puts his hand on it.

"I didn't feel the best in Stockholm but I did that personal best and national record so I felt like my priorities must just be right."

Discovering high jump as a tall and - by her own admission - extremely uncoordinated young girl was a blessing for McDermott.

So was linking up at the age of 11 with Matt Horsnell - who has been her coach since day one and who saw something special in her right from the start.

"He told me straight away that I could be great and that he had a plan to get me there," she said.

"My parents remember the conversation.

"Matt had all the coaching qualifications and all the coaching experience, but he'd never had an international athlete.

"Now he had someone to unleash that knowledge on."

The only Australian female high jumper to have stood on the podium at an Olympics is Michele Brown, who took home silver from the 1964 Games, also in Tokyo.

Remarkably, Australia has two genuine contenders this time around in McDermott and 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Eleanor Patterson, who have been competing against each since their pre-teen years.

"Even though it seems like we've known each other forever this will be our first international team together and that's when you get to hang out and become really close friends," said McDermott.

"When she does well it's not about a comparison; I'm really happy for her because we've both been on the journey for so long.

"Also being able to celebrate Eleanor's success would be like celebrating our nation, like Ash Barty winning Wimbledon.

"To have two of the greatest high jumpers in Australian Olympic history and the possibility that we might bring home two Olympic medals would be amazing."

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