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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Carissa Moore the latest Olympian to receive Sullivan Award

Carissa Moore
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Carissa Moore, who won surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, joined a long list of gold medalists to receive the Sullivan Award, which has honored an outstanding U.S. athlete outside of major professional sports (usually NCAA or an Olympian) since 1930.

The other finalists were Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young, NCAA Softball Player of the Year Jocelyn Alo and NCAA Baseball Player of the Year Ivan Melendez.

Moore followed her Olympic title in 2021 by finishing second in the season-long World Surf League, upset by Australian Stephanie Gilmore in the finals in September. Most of the 2024 Olympic spots will be determined by next season’s World Surf League standings.

She is the first surfer to win the Sullivan Award.

Past honorees include Michael PhelpsCarl Lewis and Eric Heiden.

The Sullivan Award “recognizes the outstanding athlete whose athletic accomplishments are complemented by qualities of leadership, character and sportsmanship.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Olympians/Paralympians to win Sullivan Award since 2000
2022: Carissa Moore (Surfing)
2021: Simone Biles (Gymnastics) and Caeleb Dressel (Swimming)
2018: Kyle Snyder (Wrestling)
2016: Breanna Stewart (Basketball, shared award)
2013: Missy Franklin (Swimming)
2011: Evan Lysacek (Figure Skating)
2009: Shawn Johnson (Gymnastics)
2007: Jessica Long (Swimming, Paralympics)
2005: Paul Hamm (Gymnastics)
2004: Michael Phelps (Swimming)
2003: Sarah Hughes (Figure Skating)
2002: Michelle Kwan (Figure Skating)
2001: Rulon Gardner (Wrestling)

Long jumper accused of false information to get Olympic spot

Izmir Smajlaj
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A long jumper and two officials from Albania could face bans after they were accused of submitting false information that helped the athlete get a spot at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said Friday it had charged long jumper Izmir Smajlaj, Albanian track federation president Gjegj Ruli and the federation’s general secretary Nikolin Dionisi with disciplinary offenses over a competition held in Albania in May 2021, two months before the Tokyo Olympics. They are all provisionally suspended until the case is resolved.

Smajlaj was named as the competition winner with a national-record jump of 8.16 meters.

“It is alleged that false information was submitted to World Athletics and the AIU in support of this competition result,” the AIU said.

Smajlaj’s result wasn’t good enough to qualify for the Olympics outright, but he got a place under the “universality” rule that allows countries to send one male and female athlete to the Olympic track events. Those athletes still have to provide evidence they have met a certain standard to compete.

Smajlaj jumped 7.86 meters at the Olympics as he failed to qualify for the final.

The AIU said in September that Albania was one of seven countries on a “competition manipulation watch list” along with Turkey, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.

It’s not the first time Tokyo Olympic qualifiers have allegedly been manipulated. Swimming’s world governing body FINA said last year there was “nefarious behavior” around two swim meets in Uzbekistan just before the Olympics and refused to recognize the results. An Indian swimmer who took part in one of the meets said the results were faked and that he had been offered a bribe to keep quiet.

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