Athletics: Kiwi pole vault star Eliza McCartney flying high again with sights set on Paris 2024 Olympics

For the first time in five years, Eliza McCartney feels like herself again, and she has a message for her rivals - she's back.

The Rio 2016 bronze medallist has been hampered by illness and injury in recent years, prompting fears she may never pole vault again.

But following an impressive performance at the Brisbane Track Classic over the weekend, McCartney is now putting everything towards her goal of competing at next year's Paris Olympics - and she won't be going to make up the numbers. 

Last weekend's 4.71m effort was the 26-year-old's first leap over 4.32m since 2019, and secured her qualification for this year’s world championships in Budapest.

It may not have seemed it, but it was when she realised she was back. And more importantly, for the first time since 2018, she felt like herself again.

"That probably was the moment that I felt like I was a good pole-vaulter again," McCartney told Newshub from Brisbane.

"It actually feels like nothing's clicked quickly at all. It's been very much a patient and slow process of it might not come back all at once. 

"I'm hoping I could have a click moment sometime soon, but I have a feeling it's just going to be one of those slow builds which is fine.

"It's more the fact that I get to compete continuously without having to pull out of comps. That makes it feel much more normal and real again."

And while the smile's back and tears are largely gone, McCartney knows she's not back to her best, and still well off her personal best of 4.94m.

"I feel like I'm around the 70 percent mark," she said. "Something like that. Maybe even 80 percent. But there's definitely still more there.

That remaining 20 percent is largely, the mental side, with aspects of technique tweaks.

"I still get impatient about it and just want it to happen," McCartney said. "But I guess you can feel impatient but be able to manage it and keep working on things anyway.

"It's also building confidence again. The more I compete, the more I'm like, yeah, I can do this. This is okay."

That's seen McCartney allow herself to dream of the potential and possibility of Paris, as petrifying of a prospect as that may be.

"The whole kind of reason behind changing everything, continuing to come back, really fighting to come back to pole vault, is Paris," she said. "Which is a very stressful and pressurising thing to say, but it's the truth."

And with a busy European programme, something she hasn’t experienced for a few years, and a world championships to come this year, there's still plenty of time to sort that.