UWA student Stephen Clough got into pole vaulting at 16 after years in athletics such as long jump. Fast-forward to today and Stephen has a string of national competitions, a bachelor’s degree, and a spot representing Australia at the recent Summer Universiade in Taipei all under his belt.
UWA Sport caught up with Stephen to find out more about the athlete as his focus moves towards Tokyo 2020.
You’ve just come back from Taipei, what did this mean for your athletic career development?
I think it was just really good because it was my first international competition, my first proper Australian trip experiencing that higher level of competition. So coming back from that, it just reinvigorates the motivation, to want to do that again and get to higher levels, especially coming in to the Commonwealth Games. Taipei is definitely the biggest achievement of my career, to start off with at least.
What was the experience like travelling with other Australian athletes?
I was actually the only person in the athletics team who was from Western Australia, so I got to meet a lot of other athletes, which was really cool. When you go onto the international stage, everyone is so friendly. You’re there for yourself, and you know they’re there for themselves, so you have respect for each other.
I’ve made bunch of friends, and from Taipei there are so many international athletes that I’m now even just Instagram or Facebook friends with. There are a lot of pole vaulters, who are just cool, and everyone gets along because you all get it, you all know what’s going on.
Where else has your sporting career taken you?
Taipei was my first international competition, but I have done quite a bit of travel around Australia. Recently, I got to go to Cairns, which was a real highlight. It’s where my career will take me in the future that is more important.
The main goal over the next few years is to go over to Europe during their summer and compete on the European circuit, and then the major championships, so I’ve got a few things to aim for, leading up to in Tokyo in 2020.
How has the UWA Sport Student Athlete Development Program helped you balance studies and sport?
I’ve only just started really, but I think it’s good because it does give you a contact point between being an athlete and a student, straight to your faculty or your lecturers. It’s good to have someone in between, that helps people understand what you’re doing a little bit more. It can be hard sometimes, to just go up to a lecturer in the first week of classes and tell them what you do, without a support network to assist with that.
I’m studying a Masters in Applied Finance, which is completely different to my sporting commitments. My undergraduate degree was in Sports Science, but I took a year off to work out what I wanted to do, and then came back at the start of this year, doing finance, which has been great.
How does it feel competing in pole vaulting, which is typically a very solo sport?
It’s funny, but I find with individual events like pole vault, there is weirdly this huge team environment. Even my training group in Perth, there’s five of us, and we’re all about the same age; two boys and three girls and we’re all best friends. Even though we’re kind of competing against each other, everybody wants everyone else to do well.
Is there anything strange or superstitious you do before a big event or competition?
No, I’m pretty consistent. My routine, it’s literally just the same thing I do every day! I wake up; it’s the same breakfast, same routine. There’s nothing exciting going on there.The only thing about comp day is that I’m a bit more focused than normal; I try and keep a bit more to myself than wasting energy.
Do you still get the nerves before a competition?
Ah, yes, it really depends. For example, in Taipei I was not nervous at all, because it was just so exciting. But when it is nationals here, I always get nerves. Not so much at the time, but in hindsight, I was super proud just to get to Taipei, so competing was a reward in itself. But at the time, it was more like now that you’re here it’s time to perform.
Last one, could you use three words to describe yourself?
(Laughs) Oh that’s a tricky question. If I could use one word; I’d probably say chill. I’d like to think I’m a pretty chill guy.
Graduate Officer, UWA Sport Marketing, Communication, and Events