Katie MoonNewsTrack & Field

Katie Moon and Nina Kennedy Agree to Share Gold After Epic Pole Vault Duel

by Brian Pinelli

(L-R) Nina Kennedy (Australia) and Katie Moon react after competing in the women's pole vault finals at the 2023 World Athletics Championships on Aug. 23, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Getty Images)

The world’s No. 1 and No. 2 ranked female pole vaulters battled mano-a-mano to determine who would become world champion during another steamy night at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. 

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 gold medalist and defending world champion Katie Moon and Australian opponent Nina Kennedy both made clutch final attempts at 4.90 meters to extend a dramatic, and exhausting, pole vault competition. Both vaulters – taking turns on the runway, in what quickly developed into a physically and mentally draining battle – were unable to conjure more magic with the bar raised to 4.95 meters, a mark that no one has conquered this season. Still, a tremendous effort by both women under tough circumstances.

Essentially, a tied scorecard. The athletes would be offered the ability to compete in a jump-off to settle the final score. Nonetheless, shared gold medals were more than acceptable to both Moon and Kennedy.

“You don’t expect that it’s going to come down to something like that, and it’s funny because I never knew what I’d do in the moment, but it was such a battle and exhausting competition, and when I went out at 95 I was just really fatigued,” Moon said, talking to reporters with a gold medal hanging around her neck.

“So when I walked off the pit, and she walked up, I assumed that she would want to jump-off and I was ready to do it. 

“I said, ‘Okay, I want to jump’ and she said, 'You do?’ and then I was like wait a minute, there was an immediate [reaction] unless you want to share,” Moon revealed. “She was like ‘Are you sure, are you sure?’ and I was like ‘Yes, absolutely.’”

“Katie is the world champion and the Olympic gold medalist, she’s a fierce competitor and I didn’t think she’d want to share it,” Kennedy said, also wearing a gold medal. “I looked at her and said ‘Hey girl, maybe you want to share this’ and you could see the relief in her eyes and on her face. It was mutual.”

The officials confirmed the agreement and there it was – a proud and shared outcome for the American and Australian athletes.

“We both went out, did the same thing and both won today, and that was the right call,” Moon said.   

“It’s incredible to share the gold medal with Katie Moon,” Kennedy said. “She’s the GOAT of the sport.”

The 32-year-old Ohio vaulter was unflappable throughout the grueling competition, charging from behind after an uncharacteristic miss at 4.80 meters, and then duplicated Kennedy’s clearance of 4.90 meters to keep her gold medal hopes alive. Moon competed with ice in her veins on a sticky night with temperatures lingering uncomfortably in the mid-80s.

“I would definitely say that was my most clutch jump of all-time,” Moon said. “I knew as soon as I picked up my pole – I had a lot of really good adrenaline coursing through me and it worked out.”

It was the same height that Moon cleared to capture her fifth U.S. title in July, but with a lot more pressure considering the magnitude of the moment in Budapest. Her personal best stands at 4.95 meters.

For the 26-year-old Kennedy, both the 5.85- and 5.90-meter clearances were personal bests and new Australian records.

A competition for the ages and one that will forever link Moon and Kennedy together in track and field history.

Katie Moon competes during the women's pole vault final at the 2023 World Athletics Championships on Aug. 23, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary.

The ladies appeared to be inspired by fellow bar-jumpers Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Essa Barshim. The Italian and Qatari friends set precedent at Tokyo 2020, and warmed hearts around the world with their mutually-acceptable decision and unplanned celebration.

“I didn’t know it was even possible until those guys did it – so I definitely thought back to that and thought wait, we don’t have to jump again, that would be crazy,” Moon said.

“That’s the first thing that came to my mind,” Kennedy revealed. “They’re obviously really great friends and me and Katie have also known each other for a long time.”

“I’m just so happy we get to share this,” said the two-time world pole vault champion.

Asked if she will now start aiming for a world championship – Olympics double-double, Moon responded: “It’s going to take a lot of really good training, a little bit of luck, and I know there will be a lot of girls gunning for it. 

“I’m going to do everything I can to work my butt off and make that happen,” she said.

Moon led four U.S. women, among 12 competitors in total, into Wednesday night’s final. All qualified successfully on Monday.

It is further proof of the depth and deep talent pool of women’s pole vaulting in the U.S. The event debuted at the Olympic Games Sydney 2020, as Stacy Dragila won the inaugural gold medal. Jennifer Suhr soared to gold at the Olympic Games London 2012 and Moon, then named Nageotte, became Olympic champion in Tokyo.

U.S. veteran Sandi Morris, the Olympic Games Rio 2016 silver medalist and three-time world championship silver medalist, struggled to find her form and rhythm, and bowed out after clearing 4.65 meters. She finished seventh on the night.

The 31-year-old vaulter from Illinois remains the American record holder at 5.00 meters (16 feet 1 inch) and was previously ranked World No. 1 for 45 weeks.

Eighteen-year-old rising talent Hana Moll had successful vaults at 4.30 meters and 4.50 meters, while gaining invaluable big-event experience. She ended tied for ninth. 

Bridget Williams, 27, also cleared the 4.50-meter mark, but based upon additional misses, was 12th.

Overall, it was a productive and highly encouraging couple of days and nights for the U.S. vaulters in Budapest.

Scenery of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge over the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Brian Pinelli)

Katie Moon has been enjoying quality time with family, while venturing around the ‘Pearl of the Danube’ this week in the run-up to Wednesday night’s pole vault final.

The intrepid pole vaulter posted photos on her Instagram story showing she and her family enjoying coffee at an elegant Hungarian café, a proud discovery of vegan pizza and other fun-filled activities around the central European city which is divided by the Danube River.

“At this point in my career, I’m just having trying to have fun with it and enjoying it more than ever,” Moon told Team USA after qualifying on Monday. “Maybe it’s just the culmination of the past few years and finally being confident in myself, or it might be the new Gluten Free diet.”

Moon was diagnosed with Celiac Disease last October.

“Just having the right nutrition is helping, so it’s a combination of things for sure, but right now I’m just really enjoying it,” she said.

Having married husband Hugo last New Year’s Eve, the defending world champion is competing under the surname Moon for the first time at a major championship.

The 32-year-old athlete from Ohio even joked that she changed names from Nageotte to Moon for multiple reasons.

“Taking my husband’s last name is something I always wanted to do and I think it makes it a little bit easier for the announcers and media to pronounce, so it’s probably the best-case scenario for everybody.” Moon kidded, at a news conference before the start of competition in Budapest.

Moon, her husband, sister and parents took in fireworks illuminating the night sky over the Danube River during Sunday’s St. Stephen’s Day celebration, Hungary’s oldest national holiday.

“I watched for just a few minutes, but I said to my Mom we’re watching fireworks in Budapest before I get to compete for Team USA – it’s just awesome,” Moon said.

Moon said she was stoked to speed down the runway in her new all-golden Nike spikes with her initials, "KM," engraved upon them.

“I got to practice in them a little bit, but this is for the first competition and they feel great,” she said after jumping 4.65 meters in Monday’s qualification. “I’m so happy with them and love them no much. I like the idea of the black and gold and they were awesome enough to make them.”

Moon mentioned more is in store for the post-competition adventure.

“Budapest has been amazing, really awesome – the city is so cool and I can’t wait to go exploring some more when my competition is done,” she said with a smile.