After striking gold at the London Olympics last month, pole vaulter Jenn Suhr of Riga figured she would take time off to relax.
But when sponsors mentioned a possible “Victory Tour” through western New York, it was too good to pass up.
“It’s really a ‘Thank You’ tour,” Suhr said this week. “A thank you to fans, and a chance to show off just what pole vaulting is.”
The tour kicked off Saturday, and Suhr was at her best, leaping 4.83 meters (15 feet, 10 inches) in her hometown of Fredonia. That’s the top women’s leap in the world this year, including the Olympics.
The second of three competitions takes place Friday night at Roberts Wesleyan College in North Chili. Complimentary tickets are available for 2,000 spectators at select Wegmans locations.
“It’s a chance to see the best in the world perform,” said her coach and husband, Spencerport graduate Rick Suhr. “Jenn will probably never jump in Rochester again.”
Suhr also will compete at 10:30 a.m. Sunday inside the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse prior to the Bills’ game against the New England Patriots. That event is also open to fans.
On Friday night, she’ll go up against a group of men and women from western New York, including Brockport High graduate Claire Dishong, a six-time Section V champion who was runner-up at the 2009 high school state meet and now competes for Cornell University; and Lancaster’s Jenn Thill, who won the Section VI (Buffalo area) state qualifier this year.
Suhr, 30, says life has changed greatly since returning from London with her gold medal. She also won silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“When people approach us, they have a story of what it mean to them seeing me win it,” she said. “I’ve seen people cry telling us what it was like, or cry just touching the gold medal.”
More than a few parents have handed their babies over to the world’s top-ranked pole vaulter for a kiss.
“I feel like I’m running for office,” she said with a laugh.
Suhr says she plans to compete for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At some point, she’ll get the down time she craves. But not just yet.
“It’s hard to stay in shape for so long,” she said.
“You peak for the Olympics. But it’s important for me to do the best I can (at these local meets).”
She’s excited to return to Roberts, where she was a standout basketball player. Then Jenn Stuczynski, she was named National Christian College Athletic Association Player of the Year in 2003-04, when she averaged 24.3 points despite being double-teamed. She left as Roberts’ all-time leading scorer (1,733 points) and graduated in 2004 with a degree in psychology.
That same year, she took up the pole vault. The rest is an Olympic success story.
Friday’s tour stop is special for another reason.
“This is Rick’s back yard, too,” she said of performing at Roberts. “I was in my hometown last week, and this is his hometown. I want to perform well.”
Rick says to expect the unexpected.
“I have no idea how high she might jump,” he said.
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