Go­ing for gold

Ken­dricks fa­vored in pole vault at world cham­pi­onships in Lon­don

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

When he was clean­ing up his fa­ther’s barn as a teenager, Sam Ken­dricks day­dreamed about how cool it would be to travel the world and com­pete in the pole vault at the Olympics.

A decade later, the globe-trot­ting Mis­sis­sippi na­tive still calls him­self “a small-town boy who loves to have big ad­ven­tures”.

Ken­dricks, 24, com­petes in the world cham­pi­onships in Lon­don start­ing this week and will be one of the fa­vorites after nine con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries and the out­door sea­son’s high­est jump, a US ti­tle-win­ning six me­ters.

Some­how it has all worked out even after an off­sea­son that was any­thing but reg­u­lar.

For five months dur­ing key fall and win­ter train­ing, the US Army Re­serve first lieu­tenant picked up his pole maybe three times while on ac­tive duty for class­room and field ex­er­cises.

Since Fe­bru­ary, though, he has been dom­i­nant, de­feat­ing French world record holder Re­naud Lav­il­le­nie four times.

The mul­ti­ple US cham­pion earned his first Olympic medal, a bronze, at the Rio Games — along with added at­ten­tion.

On the run­way in a qual­i­fy­ing round, he stopped, dropped his pole and stood to at­ten­tion while the US anthem played for an­other ath­lete dur­ing a medal pre­sen­ta­tion.

“I didn’t want to be THAT lieu­tenant that didn’t stop for the na­tional anthem,” Ken­dricks said.

Now he seeks the only global honor miss­ing — a world out­door cham­pi­onship medal.

“Am I the fa­vorite to win? I am not sure,” said the per­son­able Ken­dricks. “Am I a fa­vorite to medal? I can be­lieve that be­cause on any given day I’m just as strong as any­body.”

Telling stat

The telling stat is that of the seven high­est jumps in the world this out­door sea­son, Ken­dricks has four of them.

Yet the 2016 world in­door silver medal­ist in­sisted there is a group of fa­vorites, in­clud­ing Lav­il­le­nie.

“There is some­thing to be said for Re­naud hav­ing won seven Di­a­mond League cham­pi­onships, and that he has been the best seven years in a row,” Ken­dricks said.

“There’s no one in the sport who should say he has not achieved enough. That would be dis­re­spect­ful.”

Ken­dricks made that clear when talk at a Paris me­dia con­fer­ence cen­tered on his first and only six-meter jump.

Turn­ing to Lav­il­le­nie, Ken­dricks asked: “How many times have you cleared six me­ters?” The an­swer was 17. Each ath­lete has his own strengths.

“Re­naud’s are his speed and expe- ri­ence,” said Ken­dricks. “I think I am the most tech­ni­cally ef­fi­cient. I think (Cana­dian world cham­pion) Shawn Bar­ber has the most gusto.”

Ken­dricks also grips the pole the low­est of any ma­jor com­peti­tor, mak­ing tech­ni­cally sound jumps im­por­tant.

“Six me­ters is al­most a flaw­less jump for me,” he said.

Not that he does not en­ter­tain jump­ing higher. There is no push, how­ever, to break Lav­il­le­nie’s world record of 6.16m.

“I don’t see my­self there,” Ken­dricks said.

The son of a high school coach who is also his trainer, Ken­dricks turned to pole vault­ing after un­suc­cess­ful tries at other sports.

“The tech­ni­cal as­pects of sports al­ways en­thralled me,” he said.

“I fig­ured if I could get good enough tech­ni­cally at some­thing I could bridge the gap I didn’t have in ath­letic abil­ity.”

His first pole was a bro­ken high­jump bar with a ten­nis ball at the end.

“I started jump­ing with the girls team be­cause we didn’t have equip­ment for small guys,” said Ken­dricks, who now stands 6-foot-1. “We had girls’ poles.

“I also got beat by a lot by girls in high school.”

By 2013 he had be­come the first US col­le­gian in 14 years to clear 5.79m and with his dad “a strong handler of the reins” Ken­dricks has taken the time to learn the event rather than shoot for the moon.

REUTERS

Sam Ken­dricks clears the pole vault bar at the Di­a­mond League meet in Lau­sanne, Switzer­land on July 6. The 24-year-old Amer­i­can is one of the fa­vorites for gold at the World Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships, which open in Lon­don this week.

REUTERS

Sam Ken­dricks holds the Stars and Stripes aloft after win­ning a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

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