In 2021, Katie Moon became an Olympic champion. In 2022, she crumbled.

“I really struggled,” Moon told NBC Olympics. “I had what they have deemed ‘post-Olympic blues’ or ‘post-Olympic depression.’ I just really crashed in every sense of the word. I was so stressed all year long, and I had a terrible season.”

Competing as the reigning Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Moon lost nearly every single meet in 2022, including eight in a row at one point.

“I didn't know if maybe that was going to be my last year, because feeling that way was very tough,” Moon said. “There’s such a mental factor to pole vault. We can't just show up and go through the motions. There has to be such a mental focus. You need energy, adrenaline and intent."

I didn't have any of that, and I couldn’t flip it back on for anything. So, I just kind of trudged through that year.

The “trudging” did involve rallying herself enough to win a world title at the 2022 World Championships in July.

'OK, you are good at this,' Moon implored herself. 'You just won worlds on a shorter approach with a terrible year. Just believe in yourself a little bit.'

“That 2022 season just really changed a lot for me mentally and from a confidence standpoint,” she said.

But Moon was absolutely beat. So, she did what her mind and body had been imploring her to do: She took a break.

She visited with family around the country. She traveled to the Bahamas for her bachelorette party. She didn’t do anything related to pole vault. She didn’t talk about pole vault. She didn’t even think about pole vault.

“I just needed a break.”

Feeling refreshed

Moon returned from her break with a 2023 season befitting an Olympic champion.

“When I came back, I actually felt really refreshed and really ready to go again,” Moon said.

Moon won the U.S. indoor title, U.S. outdoor title and, in August, prevailed in Budapest to win her second consecutive world title.

Her second world gold drew massive headlines across the athletic world, because Moon shared it with Australian Nina Kennedy.

On August 23 in Budapest, Moon and Kennedy were in the throes of an intense pole vault final, matching each other at every height: 4.80m...4.85m...4.90m.

“Everyone was watching,” Kennedy remembered from her home in Western Australia. “There were no other events left, so every single eyeball in the stadium was watching us.”

After both vaulters failed to reach 4.95m, two options remained: Moon and Kennedy could either compete for gold in a sudden-death jump-off or simply share the world title. Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi already had set a precedent by choosing to split Olympic gold in Tokyo in the same situation. So, Kennedy walked up to Moon and floated the idea of a split.

“You could see the relief on Katie’s face,” Kennedy said. “It just felt really right.”

After hitting her nadir — one that nearly forced her out of the sport and sent her on a six-week break from it all — Moon said yes and was again a world champion. Shared or not, she knows she earned it.

“I'm thrilled with how it turned out,” Moon said. “Because it's an individual sport, we get so few moments in track and field where you're truly as happy as someone else. That made it really special.”

But once the world processed the Moon-Kennedy joint title, online trolls came out in droves criticizing the decision, labeling the two champions as “cowards,” “pathetic” and much more.

Moon took to social media to slam the couch critics, writing in part, “To say that I’ve seen mixed reviews about our decision to share the win would be an understatement. While part of me doesn’t want to entertain the negative comments, I would like to help enlighten those that are calling us “cowards”, “shameful”, “pathetic” etc. I know you can’t make everyone happy in this world."

“We decided that in this particular moment, sharing glory was just as good as earning it outright. I understand that people want to see a clear winner. It is the exciting part of sport. But in this instance, it was without a doubt the right decision, and one that I will never regret. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a “win at all cost” mindset to have a champion’s mentality.”

Moon has long been transparent about all things on social media, putting out statements on everything from Team USA’s uniforms to rumors about her net worth. So when she sensed an opportunity to put the detractors in their place, she seized it.

"I was more laughing at a lot of the comments, because I knew it was people that just didn't get it," Moon said. "And oftentimes, it was people that I knew had never actually watched a track meet in their life. They just saw the headline and wanted to be mean. And if people wanted to be mad, that's OK. They're welcome to be. I'm not gonna be mad, but I spoke my piece on it.”

New Moon

As Moon’s second Olympic Games approach, she’s now dealing with a different sort of nuisance: an injury.

For most of 2024, Moon has been suffering from Achilles tendinosis, which kept her out of February’s World Indoor Tour meet in Liévin, France, and has limited her in other competitions.

“It's just obnoxious and painful and lingering,” Moon said.

Thankfully, Moon’s Achilles hasn’t suffered any tears or severe damage, and no surgery has been required. ​​She recently received a PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) injection meant to boost healing.

Plus, this version of Katie Moon is far more capable of grinding her way through the injury than her 2022 self.

“2022 really showed me that I need to not be so hard on myself,” Moon said. “After the Olympics, you feel like you have to keep proving yourself. I always made mountains out of molehills.”

Moon’s coach, Brad Walker, told her that year that she was turning every day into a roller coaster. Moon needed to chill. And in the year and a half since that low point, she has lightened up significantly.

“It’s the first time I really had fun with vaulting and just enjoyed it,” she said. “And that's been really nice. I'm like, ‘Why couldn't I have been like this my whole career?’”

That mentality is powering Moon through the Achilles pain as she marches closer to the Paris Olympics, where she’ll compete with a field that includes fellow world champion Kennedy and 24-year-old British star Molly Caudery, who prevailed at the 2024 World Indoor Championships in March.

“With the injury, I've been really having to come back slowly,” Moon said. “I think just remembering 2022 has allowed me to stay calm and not get panicked and stressed. I just keep showing up, keep putting in the work, and I’m going to be fine.”

Moon first traveled to Paris in 2013 as an Ashland University student studying abroad at the Paris Fashion Institute. Moon and her fellow students learned how to create fashion lines and even assisted in dressing models at Paris Fashion Week.

“I love fashion, and I was so happy that I got to go do that,” Moon said. “I met some of my best friends there.”

The fashion escapade was Moon’s maiden voyage to Europe. In a few weeks, she’ll return to Paris — this time, to defend her Olympic gold medal.

“I love that I get to do this,” Moon said. “But it's not the end-all be-all. I tell myself, ‘You’re OK, and if you have a bad day, you’re still good at this.’”