Project runway: Sandi Morris, Olympic medalist, builds own pole vault setup

Sandi Morris
AP
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Sandi Morris set the bar high with her latest do-it-yourself project.

Soon, she will be clearing it, too.

The Olympic pole vault silver medalist didn’t have a place to practice and plenty of down time due to the coronavirus pandemic. So she and her father constructed their own pole-vault setup near Greenville, South Carolina.

Built out of plywood, the 120-foot runway is situated between a soccer field and a tennis court on neighborhood land two blocks from her parents’ place. Their pole vault project could be operational as soon as this weekend (they just need the landing mat to arrive).

Viewing is definitely encouraged — from windows for now (social distancing and all).

“There are tons of houses that can see the field from their windows,” said the 27-year-old Morris, who usually trains in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but traveled home to start the project with the Tokyo Games postponed to next summer and no foreseeable competitions. “So I’m being literal when I say they’re going to watch me from their windows. It will be fun.”

This project has been in the back of their mind for ages. Morris would always venture home and wouldn’t be able to stay long because she had to return to practice.

Now, her coach can simply send along a workout.

“This virus kind of pushed us to do something that we’ve always wanted to do,” said Morris, who finished second to Katerina Stefanidi of Greece at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The entire endeavor took about three weeks and cost around $4,000 (not counting the landing mat, which usually runs around $30,000 but was loaned to her). There’s a rubber surface covering the runway for better traction, too. No concrete was used so it can be moved (although, not easily).

Each day, the routine went something like this: Sandi would train in the morning while her father, Harry, worked from home as a geologist. When their day jobs were complete, they headed to the field — about two blocks out their front door — to finish the pole-vault project (friends volunteered their time, too, on property the owner gave a green light to use). The father and daughter would be down there until nearly dark. Most times, she would head home first with her dad saying he would be along shortly.

“An hour later, he then comes home. My mom’s like, ‘Where were you?’ And he’s like, and this is always the answer, ‘Oh, I was just tinkering,’” explained Morris, who’s earned the silver medal at the last two world outdoor championships. “This project brings him a lot of joy — and that brings me a lot of joy.”

The blueprint was provided by Scott Kendricks, the father of two-time world pole vaulting champion Sam Kendricks. The Kendricks family built a similar setup years ago in Mississippi (they’ve since switched to a fabricated runway).

It’s no easy task.

“Almost like building a skate-park — you can really mess it up if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Sam Kendricks said. “But I saw her running on it and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a fine runway you guys have built.’”

He’s eager to try it out — once shelter-at-home restrictions are eased and it’s safer to travel again, of course.

“Heck yeah. I’d definitely drive through Atlanta to visit Sandi and try that,” Kendricks said.

Maybe even a competition on it one day? The runway is mobile enough and could be moved to, say, the streets of downtown Greenville for an event.

“If you build it, they will come,” Kendricks joked. “Or they’ll ask to.”

To stay sharp, Morris is working out with recently purchased weight room equipment. She’s also enjoying some down time at home. She recently purchased a bunny for her niece (“scored some cool points,” she laughed).

It was one highlight after another last fall for Morris, who took silver at the world championships. Soon after, she married Bermuda long jumper Tyrone Smith. They’re currently in different locations, though, as he balances training for the Olympics with business school at the University of Texas.

Maybe down the road, a long-jump project.

“There’s not really a great place for him to jump here,” she explained. “There are high school tracks that have long-jump pits, but most of them don’t have a long enough runway.”

As for the Olympics being pushed back until next summer, she’s trying to look at the positive — no matter how hard it may be. Diamond League meets are postponed until at least June.

“Building this has been such an incredible distraction,” Morris said. “The pole vaulting here will allow me to just go out and have fun.”

MORE: NBCSN Olympic Games Week TV, live stream schedule

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French Open: Ons Jabeur completes Grand Slam quarterfinal set; one U.S. player left

Ons Jabeur
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No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia dispatched 36th-ranked American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1 in the French Open fourth round, breaking all eight of Pera’s service games.

Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, has now reached the quarterfinals of all four majors.

Jabeur faces 14th-seeded Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia or Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, playing on a protected ranking of 68, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Pera, a 28 year-old born in Croatia, was the oldest U.S. singles player to make the fourth round of a major for the first time since Jill Craybas at 2005 Wimbledon. Her defeat leaves Coco Gauff, the 2022 French Open runner-up, as the lone American singles player left out of the 35 entered in the main draws.

The last American to win a major singles title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought matches the longest in history (since 1877) for American men and women combined.

Later Monday, Gauff plays 100th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Top seed Iga Swiatek gets 66th-ranked Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko. The winners of those matches play each other in the quarterfinals.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

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Jim Hines, Olympic 100m gold medalist and first to break 10 seconds, dies

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Jim Hines, a 1968 Olympic 100m gold medalist and the first person to break 10 seconds in the event, has died at age 76, according to USA Track and Field.

“I understand that God called him home today and we send the prayers up for him,” was posted on the Facebook page of John Carlos, a 1968 U.S. Olympic teammate, over the weekend.

Hines was born in Arkansas, raised in Oakland, California and attended Texas Southern University in Houston.

At the June 1968 AAU Championships in Sacramento, Hines became the first person to break 10 seconds in the 100m with a hand-timed 9.9. It was dubbed the “Night of Speed” because the world record of 10 seconds was beaten by three men and tied by seven others, according to World Athletics.

“There will never be another night like it,” Hines said at a 35th anniversary reunion in 2003, according to World Athletics. “That was the greatest sprinting series in the history of track and field.”

Later that summer, Hines won the Olympic Trials. Then he won the Olympic gold medal in Mexico City’s beneficial thin air in 9.95 seconds, the first electronically timed sub-10 and a world record that stood for 15 years.

Hines was part of a legendary 1968 U.S. Olympic track and field team that also included 200m gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and Carlos, plus gold medalists Wyomia Tyus (100m), Bob Beamon (long jump), Al Oerter (discus), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m relays.

After the Olympics, Hines joined the Miami Dolphins, who chose him in the sixth round of that year’s NFL Draft to be a wide receiver. He was given the number 99. Hines played in 10 games between 1969 and 1970 for the Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.

He remains the only person to have played in an NFL regular season game out of the now more than 170 who have broken 10 seconds in the 100m over the last 55 years.