Last summer, with no major champs to contend, Mary Saxer was vaulting all over Europe with her best friend. This summer it's back to business, and the American wants nothing more than to don the USA vest at the world championships.

Athletics can be a cruel sport. American Mary Saxer knows that more than most. The Buffalo-born pole vaulter has finished fourth at the last two major US Outdoor Champs by the narrowest of margins.

In 2012, only a countback decision denied her a spot on the Olympic team after she and Lacy Janson tied on 4.50m. In 2013, she was 5cm outside of the top three; 5cm from being on the plane to the Moscow world champs.

Rather than become discouraged, Saxer sees the experiences as vital lessons in her development. At the 2014 indoor nationals, she won with an absolute PB of 4.71m.

“I just told myself that that was my fresh start at making teams,” Saxer recalls.

It saw her compete at last year’s world indoor championships, where she placed eighth with a best vault of 4.55m – an improvement on her 14th place finish at the 2012 world indoors where she only mustered a 4.30m clearance.

Today, with the US nationals around the corner and a spot on the world championship team up for grabs, the 27-year-old is keen to make her past experiences count.

The US team remains one of the toughest to make, with the likes of Olympic champ Jenn Suhr and emerging star Demi Payne setting the pace internationally. Saxer is under no illusion that she will have to be at her best, if she’s to be on the plane to Beijing.

“My sights are set on the top three, and I know it’s well within my reach,” she says.

“It’s just about executing on the day and doing what I know I can do. And, you know, just taking some of the disappointment and those feelings from the past and just learning from them, using them as motivation going forward.”

Things finally started clicking today! A European PB of 4.62m (15'2) & a tie for 2nd place! I'm gonna enjoy this one but excited to keep it rolling. Thanks #BirminghamDiamondLeague for another great meet & thanks to my awesome #Sopot2014 roomie @gigrunewald for making the trip extra enjoyable!!! #NikeTF #nikerunning #NYAC #UCSSpirit

A photo posted by Mary Saxer (@marysaxer) on

Saxer has enjoyed a solid start to 2015. She placed second at the indoor nationals with a 4.50m. Outdoors she has seen consistent improvement. The Boston-based vaulter opened up her Diamond League season in Shanghai with a 4.38m. In Birmingham in early June she jumped an SB 4.62m for second place behind 2011 world champ Fabiana Murer. Saxer believes that she has more to give.

“Shanghai felt really good. I didn’t clear the height I wanted but I felt good and positive coming off it,” she says.

“[In Birmingham] I feel like I displayed where I feel that I’m at. I think I can go higher for sure. It was a good, respectable mark in a tough field, so I’m really happy about it.”

A regular on the international circuit, the University of Notre Dame graduate believes her experience mixing it with the world’s best should help in her quest to make the USA world champs team this year.

“I jump against these girls often, so it’s kind of become the norm for me,” she says. “So now when I go to the US champs, there’s a great field as well. I’m not going to be star struck by who’s there.

“I feel like one of the more experienced people in the field. I just need to look at it as another meet and just go in there and do my thing; do what I know that I’m capable of.”

Mary Saxer ()

Saxer stopped off at the Anniversary Games in London on her 2014 European tour

Last summer, with no major outdoor championship for the American athletes, Saxer says she was able to enjoy competing in meets across Europe and being able to enjoy the globe-hopping lifestyle.

“We get to see so many cool places and a lot of the time we’re stuck in the hotel, focusing on getting yourself ready to go to the competition, but you don’t get to really enjoy all the places,” she says.

“Last summer was kind of about that. Having fun pole vaulting and enjoying the competition and the beautiful places we get to visit.”

She also took time out to visit the Greek island of Zakynthos with friend and fellow American vaulter Kylie Hudson.

“Everywhere I looked was like a post card. I was constantly taking photos. It was beautiful. I would love to go back. I was like ‘I wish they’d have competitions here!’.”

Her laid-back approach did not diminish her performances: Saxer finished last year as the world’s 11th best vaulter. Now back in the rough and tumble of a world championship year, Saxer has no doubts about what she wants this summer.

“It’s all I’m working towards: to wear USA across my chest. It’s one of the hardest teams in the world to make, so you know that when you’re wearing it that you’ve truly earned it. It’s going to be incredible the next time I get to wear it. I can’t wait.”