New World Record in the Women’s Pole Vault – it takes training of the right sort!

by Debra Chappell

View from the bull-pen at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships:

photo copy

Mood Reading: ZZ’s  (didn’t get a ton of sleep last night but WHO CARES!  Got a spanking brand new World Record in the Women’s Pole Vault last night to celebrate!!)

The indoor pole vault pit at the Albuquerque Convention Center yesterday was a lot hotter than the chilly temperatures outside.  We wandered over from the hotel to catch the men’s heptathlon vault that was scheduled before the women’s event  and for a bunch of big guys, they put on a pretty good show.

(For my readers new to the event, the pole vault is only one of 7 events these athletes compete in so they tend to be bigger and more brutish than their specialized counterparts.)  Anyway, for what is sometimes considered the clumsy step child of the more technically possessed specialized version, these guys did themselves proud.  Daniel Goorish won the pole vault section of the Heptathlon at 5.40 (17’8”), just missing 5.50 (18’) by his flapping bib number, and set the stage for the smoking hot women’s competition that immediately followed.

Back in June, at the Eugene Oregon Olympic Trials, Jenn Suhr was nervous and protective of a recent injury.  Her aim was to compete, do just what was needed to make the Olympic Team, and imagesretreat home for a few weeks to nurse her sore quadracep before the start of the Games. She accomplished all three.  But because she didn’t continue in the trials competition once she’d made the team in Eugene, she was criticized by Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden in an article he’d written afterward. To add insult to injury (literally,) Jenn was named by him as one of the least likely to win gold in London.  According to Rick Suhr, Jenn’s husband and coach (relayed over a celebratory beer last night after Jenn had just set a new World Record) Jenn tore the article’s page from the magazine, carefully ripped it in two, and stuffed the offending remarks into her track shoe, where they remained for several weeks, a virtual reminder of an implied Achilles heel she not only refused to accept, but would trounce on day after day. Hell hath nor fury like an athlete scorned by some skeptical sports writer.  He couldn’t have known what determination and motivation was unleashed by his doubtful prediction.

Jenn went on to win Gold in London, beating the former World Champion Yelena Isinbeyeva and several others in definitive style.  Last night, for Tim Layman at least, she added her own version of insult to injury by vaulting 5.02 to break the World Record, jumping not only into the record books, but taking her rightful and well deserved place in history.

As we shared a drink with Jenn and Rick late last night in the hotel bar, Jenn’s phone was vibrating with congratulatory text messages and tweets.  One that caught her attention was the tweet sent out by one Tim Layden of Sport Illustrated right after she’d cleared the world record bar:

“Wondering if Isinbayeva sat with towel over head as Jenn Suhr broke world PV record tonight”

Jenn looked up from her phone and laughed saying  “if he thinks that’s enough to make upphoto copy 3 for what he said, he doesn’t know me very well!”

No, he obviously doesn’t.  Nor would most who only see Jenn’s considerable athletic ability.  What was striking to me last night as we celebrated her accomplishment was her acute sense of her life’s priorities.  When a toast was offered congratulating her record and citing March 2, 2013 as the day to be remembered in the history books, Jenn suddenly jumped up and grabbed her phone exclaiming, “oh my gosh it’s my mom’s birthday today!!!  I forgot to wish her happy birthday!”  She called home to New York again right then and there, making sure her mom knew she was thinking of her.  Sometimes being the World Record Holder just isn’t as important as being a thoughtful daughter.

I think there’s at least one sports writer out there who still has a thing or two to learn about Jenn Suhr, and what goes into the making of an Olympic Gold medalist, World Record Holder and an over all well-rounded, exemplary young woman… and it might just have more to do with upbringing and family than physical prowess.