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2012 Getty Images

Suhr gunning for third straight pole vault podium in Rio

A silver medallist at Beijing 2008 and an Olympic champion in London four years later, US pole vaulter Jennifer Suhr laid down a marker for Rio earlier this year when she set a new indoor world record. 

Conditions were far from easy as the London 2012 women’s pole vault final reached its exciting conclusion, with drizzle and a buffeting headwind blowing into the athletes’ faces. By the time the bar had been raised to 4.75m, only three competitors remained in the hunt for gold: the USA’s Jennifer Suhr, Cuba’s Yarisley Silva and two-time reigning champion Elena Isinbaeva of Russia. 

It was Suhr who had the edge. Having come into the competition with the bar at 4.55m, she had yet to fail a jump, while Silva needed two attempts to clear 4.45m and Isinbaeva likewise at 4.55m. 

The American cleared the new height at the second attempt, as did the Cuban, while the defending champion had two failures before deciding to pass and take one final attempt at 4.80m. 

It was a height that neither she nor her two opponents, all hampered by the gusting breeze, would clear, allowing Suhr to claim gold on countback from Silva, with Isinbaeva left with bronze after going no higher than 4.70m.

Onwards and upwards

“I’m going to be very emotional because it’s something I’ve just dreamed about since Beijing,” said an elated Suhr, who had won silver under her maiden name of Stuckynski four years earlier in Beijing, where Isinbaeva successfully defended her Athens 2004 title with a world-record leap of 5.05m.

I’ve been dreaming about this since I started vaulting in 04. I always thought, ‘Maybe some day”, but to have it here and come true is just magical. Jennifer Suhr USA
In then taking Isinbaeva’s title from her in London, the American athlete, who married her coach Rick Suhr in 2010, became the first non-Russian to win multiple medals in the Olympic women’s pole vault.  

On fulfilling her dream she said: “To have it come true, I can’t even explain it. I’ve been dreaming about this since I started vaulting in 04. I always thought, ‘Maybe some day”, but to have it here and come true is just magical. It takes a lot of strength and dedication, and it takes a lot of mental toughness. Out there you have to be mentally tough. 

“The vault is so hard because you have such time to think in between jumps, and then they delay you for the races, and I’m like: ‘I gotta go! I have to jump now!’. It’s just anxiety and I’m glad that it’s over,” she added. 

“The psychological barrier was in myself. I knew it was going to come together one day. Beijing taught me a lot. That silver medal was so precious to me but I knew I wanted the gold. Before we came out here, Rick said I would win and he never says that. He normally says he will see me on the beach. It put that extra spunk and I thought that I could do this. 

“If he could push me over that bar he would. He cares so much. He has that passion and he knows how much I wanted it. It's two people working for one goal.

2012 Getty Images
A world record holder

The USA’s No1 women’s pole vaulter for the best part of a decade and a 15-time national indoor and outdoor champion, Suhr built on her London success by becoming only the second female to clear the five-metre mark, jumping 5.02m to beat Isinbaeva’s world indoor record in Albuquerque (USA) in March 2013. 

A few months later, she waged a duel to remember with the Russian great at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. The two rivals both cleared 4.82m, with Isinbaeva kicking on to jump 4.89m and leave Suhr to collect silver, her first Worlds medal. 

Though the American missed out on another world championship medal in Beijing last year, finishing fourth in a competition won by Silva, she began this Olympic year in fine style, beating her own indoor world record in New York in January with a jump of 5.03m. Two months later, she jumped a competition-record 4.90m to win the world indoor title in Portland (USA).  

The reigning Olympic champion will now look to book her place in Rio at the 2016 US Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field, to be held in Eugene on 1-10 July, where she will come up against rising new star, Sandi Morris, who took world indoor silver behind her in Portland. The country’s top three vaulters will make the trip to Brazil, and the 34-year-old Suhr has every intention of being one of them as she sets her sights on a third consecutive Olympic medal. 

2012 Getty Images
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