Pro Hogs:

Morris soaring high after U.S. title

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Sandi Morris exults as she clears the winning height in the women's pole vault at the U.S. indoor track and field championships in Portland, Ore., Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)
Sandi Morris exults as she clears the winning height in the women's pole vault at the U.S. indoor track and field championships in Portland, Ore., Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)

— World indoor record-holder and 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr was looking to win her 16th USA pole vault title last Saturday night in Portland, Oregon.

Instead Sandi Morris won her first.

Morris, who a year ago won the NCAA Indoor title as an Arkansas senior at 15 feet, 1 inch, cleared a personal-best 16-2 3/4 to beat Suhr, who was second at 16-0 3/4.

Suhr, 34, has been America's top vaulter since 2006 and holds the world indoor record at 16-6 she cleared Jan. 30 at a meet in Brockport, New York.

Morris now ranks third all-time in the pole vault indoors behind Suhr and Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, 33, who cleared 16-5 1/4 in 2012.

"To win it against a gold medalist and indoor world record holder, Sandi announced, 'I belong here. I'm OK with this. I know what it takes,'" said Arkansas field events coach Bryan Compton, who continues to train Morris. "She had done some great things in college, but she'd never gone 16 feet before.

"That's a big barrier for a vaulter to get over. It's a huge confidence boost for her."

Morris, 23, and Suhr both earned spots in the World Indoor Championships, where they'll compete Thursday night in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center.

"I definitely think Sandi can win again, but Jenn Suhr is not going to lay down," Compton said. "She's going to be like, 'I'm the world record-holder and I'm coming for you now little girl.' I know the mentality of her camp."

Suhr hugged Morris after her victory.

"She congratulated Sandi for joining the 16-foot club, but she's there to win, too," Compton said. "She's from New York and she's tough. That's why she won the Olympic gold medal."

Morris finished second to Suhr at the USA Outdoor meet the previous two years.

"My perception has really changed over the last year," Morris said. "When I got silver to her in 2014, I was beyond stoked with silver.

"To get silver behind the world record-holder and Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr, I was so proud and so happy.

"But in 2015 when I really improved a lot and started jumping in the high 15s … that was a realization point to me that I could win it rather than be happy with silver."

Morris for a time held collegiate indoor (15-3 1/2) and outdoor (15-5 3/4) records last year and cleared 15-5 to take fourth at the World Outdoor Championships in Beijing. Prior to last weekend, her personal-best as a professional was 15-9 3/4 at a meet in Joplin, Missouri.

Going over 16 feet, Morris said, was a breakthrough for her mentally as well as physically.

"I hadn't been giving myself enough credit in thinking silver was all right," she said. "To win gold, this is a big turning point for me.

"It's been a realization that I could be the best not only in the U.S., but in the world. It's a dream come true. It's really crazy."

Compton said that in the two weeks prior to the USA Indoor meet, Morris attempted 16-2 3/4 numerous times in practice, but never cleared it until a title was on the line.

"It was one of those deals where it was, 'How are you missing this? You've got this,'" Compton said. "She just had to get it done, and she pulled it off."

Morris cleared 15-7 on her third attempt, then missed her first attempt at 15-11.

In third place behind Suhr and Stephen F. Austin senior Demi Payne, Morris decided to pass her remaining two attempts at 15-11 and move up to 16-0 3/4, which she cleared on her second attempt.

Morris then cleared 16-2 3/4 on her first attempt before missing three attempts at 16-4 3/4. Suhr missed on her first attempt at 16-2 3/4, passed and missed her last two attempts at 16-4 3/4.

Compton said Morris didn't have any practice vaults on the runway in Portland prior to Saturday night because her flight was late arriving last Thursday and the track was closed Friday.

"She told me, 'Coach, it's OK. It doesn't matter,'" Compton said. "She just showed up and said, 'We're going to do this.' She didn't let anything bother her."

Compton said Morris continues to work through some technical flaws in her approach and soon should begin using a bigger pole she can grip higher to provide a greater push-off.

"I don't think there really is a ceiling for her," Compton said of Morris' potential. "She knows she can do a lot more. She just has to get more consistent."

Morris is using a 14-foot, 7-inch pole, Compton said, compared to the 15-7 used by Suhr and 15-3 by Payne.

"We're trying to not overshoot our bounds, because we're not there yet," Compton said. "We don't have the right technique yet on the takeoff to jump on 15-foot poles, but we're getting close.

"Once we get to that 15-foot pole and raise that grip four to five inches, I think she can jump really, really, really high.

"We're not going to do it indoors, but outdoors we're going to bust out the 15-footers, and I think it's really going to be something to watch."

Matt Jones contributed information for this article

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.