By David Vergun
Army News Service
EUGENE, Oregon — U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks won the men’s pole vault and secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, July 4, here at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field.
Kendricks cleared the bar at 5.91 meters, which is 19 feet, four-and-three-quarter’s inches. That’s an Olympic trials record.
Just behind him in second place was U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Cale Simmons, who cleared the bar at 5.65 meters.
Kendricks said he wasn’t completely surprised by the outcome, as he knew he could do it and “felt his best” in terms of mental and physical preparedness. Add to that, he jumped 1 centimeter higher than at the Olympic trials earlier in the year at the World Challenge in Beijing, so he said he knew he had it in him to do it already.
Conditions during the preliminary and final rounds, July 2 and 4 respectively, were hot and windy. Asked about dealing with those elements, Kendricks replied that in Oxford, Mississippi, where he lives and trains, it is even hotter and much more humid, so conditions in Eugene were actually pretty good.
As for the wind, he said it was a “favorable wind,” pushing him along. “I have been to meets where it has rained; the wind has been directly in your face or to the side and that makes it very difficult.”
He added: “I’d say that the pole vault is favored by the man who is the most hardy jumper because he can jump in all conditions.”
Kendricks said he’s participated at pole vault competitions all around the world and knows how he stacks up against competitors from this country and other countries, so at the Olympics in August, he knows who he’s up against.
In competitions over the last 13 months, Kendricks said he has the second highest vault aggregate average among all of his top-level competitors, just behind a Frenchman. That means he’s rated as number two overall in the world. That bodes well for a medal, he said.
Asked about the stress factor of competing, Kendricks said, the more pressure there is, the better he performs. “I thrive on that.”
Kendricks made the pole vault seem effortless at Eugene, especially compared to the long-distance runners at the trials who were dealing with the heat. Asked about the ease of effort, Kendricks said the pain factor comes into play during the many hours of arduous training.
Having said that, there is pain, because if one were to look closely at the faces of pole vaulters, he said “you’d see scowls on our faces as we swing on our poles trying to fight the forces of gravity.”
Since pole vaulting involves running speed as well as strength and nimbleness, the training regimen has more parts to it than some sports. In pole vaulting, he said he trains as a long sprinter “so I can have that strength and stability on my runs, which is the most important part of being a vaulter — having a strong run.”
The other component is gymnastic strength. Kendricks said that portion of the training is similar to what a gymnastics competitor would do. Striking the right balance between speed and strength is the goal.
Kendricks said he’s been a track and field athlete throughout high school in Oxford, Mississippi, his hometown. He said pole vaulting was his strength so he settled on becoming really good at that.
Later, at the University of Mississippi, Kendricks said he joined a “really great” Army ROTC unit. “I loved the Army unit and the level of excellence that they pursued.”
So he stayed with ROTC for four years, and last year graduated as a second lieutenant. Kendricks is scheduled to attend the Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Lee, Virginia, in October, following his Olympic competition. He’s currently in the Army Reserve with the 655th Transportation Company in Millington, Tennessee, a 90-minute drive from his hometown of Oxford.
He plans to continue with full-time pole vault training. He’s currently sponsored by Nike, but hopes to get a position with the Army’s World Class Athlete Program.