Jenn Suhr toughness earns her Olympic pole vault crown

by | August 7, 2012 at 8:45 AM | General, Olympics

Joe Battaglia, NBC Olympics

LONDON –– As soon as Cuba’s Yarisley Silva missed her final attempt at 4.80m/15-9, Jenn Suhr buried her face in her hands as the tears started to well up.

She ran over to the stands to find her husband and coach, Rick, and as the two embraced she began sobbing with joy over the enormity of the moment.

There was a changing of the guard in the women’s pole vault as Jenn Suhr unseated two-time and defending champion Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia.

She had finally won Olympic gold in the women’s pole vault.

“Whenever I would think about it, I would tear up and have to suppress it or think about something else because I could feel the momentum coming into this meet,” Suhr, who won silver in Beijing four years ago, said. “Before I left home, I jumped 16-0 in our building, which is a hard jump because it is uphill. That was my best ever in that building. I came through the laser faster than I ever have and that’s how I ended my workout before leaving to come here.

“I thought ‘I have a shot. Everything is where it needs to be.’ But then again, I am like, ‘Nah, it never works out like that. I can’t be that lucky. I can’t be that person.’”

Suhr story is certainly one of perseverance. The talent has always been there, but often unable to manifest itself in recent years due to persistent and untimely injuries as well as a period of physical weakness brought on by Celiac disease.

“Rick and I have worked so hard for this,” she said. “I don’t think people understand the turmoil and the battles and everything we fought to get here.”

It was that fight that instilled her with the fortitude she needed to win this competition, under adverse conditions, and end an era of pole vault dominance by Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva, who won the two previous Olympic titles and set 28 world records in the event.

The design of Olympic Stadium here is more low-slung than the Bird’s Nest was four years ago, leaving it suspect to swirling winds, a pole vaulter’s worst nightmare. Suhr’s winning vault of 4.75m/15-7 is nearly a foot lower than Isinbayeva’s world-record clearance of 5.05/16-6¾ in Beijing.

“Beijing was perfect pole vault conditions,” Suhr said. “It was absolutely perfect. We had a little bit of a tailwind. It was warm out. Everything was great, and here everything was a battle. You had to be tough, and you had to jump in it and deal with winds.”

It wasn’t until the vaulters reached 4.70m/15-5 that the wind really impacted the standings. It is where German contenders Silke Spiegelburg and Martina Strutz bowed out of the competition, leaving just Suhr, Silva and Isinbayeva in the medal hunt.

Suhr and Silva missed first attempts at 4.75m/15-7 before clearing it on the second. Isinbayeva, who has returned to competitive form after disastrous 2009 and 2010 seasons by her standards and nearly year’s hiatus, missed twice at the bar, passed her final attempt and moved to 4.80m/15-9 and one shot at a third consecutive gold medal, which she missed.

“The conditions were terrible,” Isinbayeva said. “As the competition went on, it became more of a mess, so difficult. I was sitting there thinking, ‘I wanted this to be over with as soon as possible.’ Psychologically, I was completely empty and didn’t want to jump anymore. Jenn wasn’t like that. She was like, ‘Grrrrr!’ She deserved to win.”

Follow Olympic Talk for all the latest on the London Games.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.