Jenn Suhr

Jenn Suhr enters U.S. Championships with new pole, unfinished story

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A book to be titled something like, “Price of Gold: The Jenn Suhr Story,” sits on Suhr’s husband and coach Rick’s table. It hasn’t been published yet, but it’s been about 90 percent complete for more than a year.

The 110 pages document Suhr’s initial rise in the nascent event of women’s pole vault, in the Olympic program since 2000, to her Olympic silver in 2008 and gold in 2012.

Suhr, 32, picked up a pole for the first time 10 years ago. She and Rick once scrounged for toll-booth change and grocery shopped exclusively for on-sale items, before their 2010 marriage and Olympic successes.

Jenn and Rick read through the book more than one year ago. They read it again. They looked up and at each other in a hotel room and came to the same conclusion.

“Price of Gold” didn’t capture the feel of the London Olympics.

“I think there’s more to the story,” Suhr said recently. “I think there’s going to have to be a little more adjectives to capture [London]. It’s something that is so hard to put into words.”

They tabled the book and went back to work.

Suhr broke Russian rival Yelena Isinbayeva‘s world indoor record on March 2, 2013. She won her seventh U.S. outdoor championship three months later and silver in one of the marquee events at the 2013 World Championships, because they were against Isinbayeva in Moscow. Suhr, who ate food out of a suitcase in Russia as a precaution, remembers being booed by spectators at Luzhniki Stadium.

Suhr enters this week’s U.S. Championships in Sacramento, Calif., likely to match the record of eight U.S. outdoor women’s pole vault titles held by Stacy Dragila, the first Olympic champion in the event.

Her season so far has largely been an unusual one. Suhr was beaten at the U.S. Indoor Championships in February and finished fifth at the World Indoor Championships in March.

She then returned to her upstate New York home and Quonset hut training facility and undertook The Carbon Project. Suhr, a 14-time national champion, Olympic champion and World indoor record holder on fiberglass poles, switched to carbon poles.

It was first considered before the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, but the risk of such a change before an Olympics coupled with a quad injury delayed the project. Other elite men and women use carbon, but all major records have been set with fiberglass, Rick said.

They believe this year, with no global championships, is the right time to make the move.

“A lot of people, the saying is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Suhr said. “But I also think you never know until you try. I want to end my career knowing that I tried everything, that I jumped as high as I possibly could, that I experimented with everything out there. With this pole, it’s really kind of the new wave of pole. It’s lighter. It has more reaction. It’s a lot more aggressive.”

Suhr made her Diamond League season debut with a carbon pole in New York two weeks ago and finished second, clearing 4.70m. Suhr’s best fiberglass marks the previous seven years ranged from 4.81m to 4.92m.

Suhr said she’s 100 percent committed to the change, which affects her run (a faster stride with a lighter carbon pole), her plant and her jump (with a different kind of pole bend). The Suhrs consider every competition a data collector.

“Your poles are kind of like your children,” Suhr said. “Now, everything is new.”

Rick recently pulled out “Price of Gold” again and read the first 25 pages, for the first time in more than one year. The book, like the Carbon Project, is not quite complete yet.

“We’re going to do it, finish it this fall,” Rick said. “But it’s gotta feel right.”

USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships broadcast schedule

Michael Phelps to participate in Shark Week

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NEW YORK (AP) — Olympic champ Michael Phelps is participating in Discovery network’s Shark Week this summer, although he won’t be asked to outswim one.

It’s not immediately clear what Phelps will be doing, although Discovery President Rich Ross said Tuesday he’s intrigued about seeing the fastest human swimmer interact with nature’s fastest. Perhaps Phelps can be encouraged to go underwater in a shark cage, he said.

The week of shark-themed programming in mid-summer is annually Discovery’s biggest event. Now that it is approaching its 29th year, programmers are on the lookout for a new wrinkle.

Phelps has won 28 Olympic swimming medals, 23 of them gold.

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World Figure Skating Championships ice dance preview

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Alex Shibutani says he and sister Maia have made a statement the past two years.

“With our ability to perform when the stakes are highest,” he said.

The stakes don’t get much higher than this week.

The Shibutani siblings, breakout world silver medalists a year ago, lead three U.S. couples who finished in the top six at the 2016 World Championships into this year’s worlds in Helsinki.

It is the strongest ice dance field since the Sochi Olympics. The PyeongChang Winter Games medal contenders will be confirmed this week.

The clear favorites are Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions competing this season for the first time since taking silver in Sochi. Virtue and Moir returned from their two-year break to post the three highest total scores of all time in their last three international competitions.

“This is probably the most prepared we’ve been for a world championships,” Moir said, while adding, “this was a warm-up season.”

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The Shibutanis finished second (with a personal-best score) to Virtue and Moir at the most recent event, the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea in February. The margin separating the two couples — 5.1 points — was considerable.

“We’re sort of in a way in a race against ourselves to try and see how good we can get and how good we can become,” Alex Shibutani said. “Each competition along the way is another step to that eventual goal [the Olympics].”

At worlds, the Shibutanis are in the medal mix with France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who won the last two world titles.

The French, already the youngest world champs in 40 years, are trying for the first ice dance three-peat in 20 years.

But they have not progressed this season, unable to match or better their winning score from the 2016 World Championships.

Papadakis and Cizeron train in Montreal with Virtue and Moir, but they struggled (held against their own standard) in both competitions outside of French borders this season. And in different areas — step sequences, twizzles, lifts.

Conversely, it looks like the Shibutanis’ biggest obstacles are well behind them. They went from a world bronze medal in their first senior season together in 2011 to four straight years off the podium.

The Shibutanis hit a nadir at the Sochi Olympics with a ninth-place finish, worst of the three U.S. couples. Maia’s tights snagged on Alex’s sequined jacket during a lift.

The devoted vloggers countered doubts after Sochi by stressing their youth — Alex was 22 then; Maia was 19. They talked about weathering the journey and sticking to a meticulous creative process.

It paid off with their first U.S. title last year, followed by that world silver medal in Boston.

“Last year’s results at the world championships were very energizing for us,” Alex Shibutani said. “People are aware of the career trajectory that we have had. We’ve set ambitious goals because we were so motivated following that result and that exciting string of competitions that we had last season.”

The Shibutanis were actually outscored by two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates in the U.S. Championships free dance in January. They stormed back with that personal best at Four Continents, though, erasing any doubt that they are the U.S. couple expected to make the podium in Helsinki.

The U.S. has earned 12 ice dance medals at the last 12 World Championships. In that same span, the U.S. brought home eight medals combined from men’s, women’s and pairs.

The Shibutanis feel confident they will extend recent American success in their discipline.

They would also create more history for sibling skaters. They’re already the most accomplished brother-sister duo since Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France won three straight world medals followed by Olympic silver in Albertville.

“We really elevated the way that we compete and perform,” at Four Continents last month, Alex Shibutani said. “Our skating has reached another level.”

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