Olympic hopeful and former New Braunfels and Stephen F. Austin pole vaulter Demi Payne hasn’t fully recovered from a thumb injury sustained in April, but her coach is optimistic about her chances to make Team USA.
“It’s sort of hit or miss,” Jeff Erickson told the Express-News. “She’s not 100 percent. I expect her to make the team, but I don’t expect it to be a cakewalk. She’s pretty tough.”
Payne dislocated her left thumb on April 2 during the Texas Relays in Austin when her pole snapped as she was elevating. The impact of the snap was enough to dislocate her thumb.
That incident has jeopardized her chances to make the Olympic team. Payne will vie for one of three available spots beginning Friday during the qualifying session at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon. The top 12 will advance to Sunday’s finals.
Although she expressed optimism about a speedy recovery when she was injured, Erickson said Payne has only been able to jump in practice four times since.
SFA assistant director of media relations Brian Newton said Payne is declining all interviews until the Trials are complete.
“It just sucks,” she said on April 2. “It is what it is. … I just want to get back at it and not worry about it.”
Erickson said Payne’s conditioning hasn’t been affected. However, she only began jumping again last week.
Payne has been working out at SFA and at Erickson’s pole vaulting facility in Jacksonville, Texas. Erickson has served off and on as volunteer coach at SFA since 1999.
Because of the injury, Payne didn’t compete again for SFA after the Texas Relays. She was the NCAA champion during the indoor and outdoor seasons in 2014-15. Erickson said Payne wanted to focus on getting healthy and preparing for the Trials.
“We gave up the NCAAs to go straight to this,” Erickson said. “We didn’t even try. She’s already won an NCAA championship, and we felt this was something we needed to focus on.”
Erickson said Payne is close to graduating but has used up her college eligibility.
Payne has the third-best qualifying mark (16 feet, 3/4 inches) among declared entrants for the Trials. The top three finishers will secure a spot on the Olympic team.
Payne was scheduled to leave for Eugene on Wednesday morning. Erickson said Payne will not have any more jumping workouts until she competes Friday.
“She’ll be fine,” Erickson said. “We just need to keep the jumps to a minimum.”