Our Olympic high jumper going for gold and God

‘We are supporting her in prayer and love,’ says her church pastor

Nicola McDermott is fast becoming a household name. At age 24, McDermott is a key Olympic medal hope for Australia, as one of the best women high jumpers in the world.

She was named among the top 10 “Aussie athletes to look out for at Tokyo Olympics“. She’s appeared on popular TV shows Channel 10’s Have You Been Paying Attention and FOX Sports’ The Back Page. And in the last few months, her face has graced the pages of most major news sites.

McDermott has gained such attention because she has achieved what no other Australian woman ever has. She was the first to break the two-metre barrier. Prior to this record-breaking jump, the all-time Australian record was 1.99 metres. For comparison, the gold-medal jump at the 2016 Olympics was only 1.97 metres.

McDermott had already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics when she added the icing to this cake by jumping two metres in April this year. Posting on social media about this realisation of her childhood dream, McDermott attributed the achievement to her “unshakeable faith in God”.

Then, just before heading to the Olympics, on July 6, McDermott broke her own long-awaited national record. She cleared the bar at 2.01 metres at the Wanda Diamond League competition in Stockholm, Sweden.

This jump placed her second at this event, behind Ukrainian Yaroslava Mahuchikh’s, who performed the highest jump in the world this year at 2.03 metres. It also ranked McDermott seventh in the world for women’s high jump.

With trademark humility, McDermott again gave the glory for this win to God, posting a Bible verse alongside a video of the event on her Facebook page.

“We believe that God wants her [at the Olympics], and that’s why she’s there,” says Josie Psaila, co-pastor of Connect Church Umina Beach on the Central Coast of NSW, where McDermott has been a congregation member for the past few years.

To Psaila and the rest of her church, McDermott is not only an Olympic athlete but a right-hand woman in ministry.

“She’s served in young adults. She helps me out with kids church. No job is too mundane for her; whatever needs to be done, she gets in there and does it,” Psaila tells Eternity.

When asked to describe McDermott, Psaila gushes, “Oh, she’s awesome! As a person, Nicola is full of joy. She has a strong faith and she’s not afraid to share it. She loves people. She’s great with young adults, but also with all age groups.”

Before McDermott left to go overseas for the Olympics, the church prayed over her, and they are continuing to pray for her in the lead up to the women’s high jump events from August 5-7.

“She’s keeping her faith. She prays with other athletes who are believers …’ – Josie Psaila

“I’ve been personally sending her messages, just checking in on her and seeing how she’s doing while she’s been overseas,” says Psaila.

“She’s extremely busy, so she’s not always answering messages. But she’s keeping her faith. She prays with other athletes who are believers, and she’s training all the time.”

Some of these athletes are connected through a network of Christian athletes called Everlasting Crowns, which McDermott co-founded in 2017. The group runs bible studies and meetings across the world, as well as connecting believers to local chaplains during international competitions.

As McDermott prepares for her next big challenge in Tokyo, Psaila shares what she is praying for her: “That she reaches her goal of beating two metres; that she stays well in light of covid being over there too; but ultimately for her to win a medal. It wouldn’t matter if it was gold, silver or bronze – just the fact that she would have a medal to bring back home would be massive for her.”

In order to be in medal contention, McDermott will need to perform another personal best jump of over 2.01 metres. This seems entirely possible for the rising star who has recorded a new personal best every year.

Many commenters have noticed McDermott’s intense approach to training and to analysing her performance. Since she “fell in love” with high jump at age eight during Little Athletics, she has consistently and diligently worked towards achieving her goals. She now carries a notepad to competitions and, immediately after jumping, she rates different aspects of her technique. McDermott trains six days a week, and her commitment to training was clearly demonstrated in her blog post while in hotel quarantine in Adelaide in October 2020.

“Growing my faith in God … seems to make my fears and doubts of what I can jump disappear.” – Nicola McDermott

However, McDermott has always relied on more than just hard work.

“I’ve got a good system and a good routine, but I have faith that allows me to jump a lot higher than my body is really capable of,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I think 2.01 is certainly possible to be in the medals, so I’m aiming and training as if it’s already sealed and I’m just believing that I can do it …

“To attempt 2.03 metres for a second time now is a dream, I really enjoy the feeling of flying once reaching those heights over two metres. Over the past few years when I have been growing my faith in God, it seems to make my fears and doubts of what I can jump disappear, so I don’t see 2.03 as intimidating at all, just a fun challenge to overcome.”

And whether or not she wins a medal at these Olympics, McDermott says she intends to fix her eyes on the bigger picture.

“Every competition I go to provides an opportunity to showcase what it means to jump without expectation, and encourage those around me that their identity isn’t in what they do,” McDermott told The Guardian.

“I do a lot of athletics, but I also do a lot of ministry … I keep the focus on making my identity outside of sport – I do sport, but it’s not who I am. That’s been the breakthrough for me – realising that my performance does not determine my identity. Once you do that, you realise that it doesn’t matter whether you win the Olympics or come last, you’re still the same person.”