Bad wrist put Sandi Morris’ Olympic spot in danger

One in a series on athletes with Arkansas ties competing at the Olympics at Rio de Janeiro.

FAYETTEVILLE — Seven weeks after Sandi Morris fractured a bone in her left wrist, she cleared 15 feet, 7 inches in the pole vault July 10 to finish second at the U.S Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.

Two weeks later, the former Arkansas NCAA champion cleared 16-2 at a meet in Houston on July 23 to set an American record.

At the rate Morris is recovering, the sky may be the limit for her when she competes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Pole vault qualifying is Aug. 16 with the final Aug. 19 — three months after Morris was injured May 20 when her pole snapped while she was vaulting in the Czech Republic.

Lexi Weeks, a U.S. Olympian in the pole vault who will be an Arkansas sophomore this year, trained with Morris in Fayetteville the past two months.

“It was hard for Sandi to get back in the swing of things after her injury, but obviously she’s there now,” Weeks said. “To go out and set an American record so shortly after being able to jump again, that’s pretty awesome.

“I think it’s definitely going to give her a lot of confidence going into the Olympics.”

Morris, 24, said she’s already done the hard part by making it to the Olympics after not being able to vault for six weeks. She had two practices in which she vaulted leading into the U.S. Trials, where she had to finish among the top three to make the Olympic team.

“It’s a weird feeling, because it’s almost less pressure at the Olympics than at the Trials,” Morris said. “At the Trials, I was expected to make the team. If I didn’t make the team, that would honestly be a bigger failure than if I were not to medal at the Olympics.

“A lot of the pressure is off right now. Yes, I want to medal. That’s my goal. I know that I have a chance at gold if I go out there and put up a 16-foot or bigger bar.

“I know how good of a shot I have at it, but also I just have to appreciate what I’ve already accomplished. I’ve made my first Olympic team off of a broken wrist, and I’m still kind of soaking up the enjoyment of that and just the whole concept of being an Olympian.”

Despite her injury, Morris was a favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team after she won this year’s U.S. Indoor Championships — clearing 16-2¾ — and finished second at the World Indoor Championships at 15-11.

But Morris wasn’t sure what to expect at the U.S. Trials.

“It’s been a little bit tougher of a journey than I thought it’d be, getting back into it, just because six weeks is a long time to go without vaulting,” she said. “Sometimes your body can get in these little ruts.”

Morris missed her first attempt at the Trials at 14-5¼ before getting untracked.

“I think Sandi was just in survival mode,” said Arkansas assistant Bryan Compton, who continues to coach Morris in the pole vault. “She was technically very, very poor. Way off.

“You could tell she was very nervous in the final, but she got through it, which shows you how talented she is.

“Once she knew she was on the team, I think she relaxed a little bit, and then in Houston she really put things together.”

Morris had planned to compete in Europe before the Olympics, but she decided to cancel those trips to vault closer to home and have more practice time.

“It was a really good call,” Morris said. “Obviously, it paid off getting back to the basics instead of going overseas. I felt like myself again. My technique was definitely better. I was jumping into the takeoff with my hands nice and high.

“I went into that Houston meet just to get my feet under me and ended up with an American record.”

After setting the American record, Morris cleared 15-9 on Friday at a meet in Charlotte, N.C., where she competed so she could visit family and friends in her hometown of Greenville, S.C., before traveling to Rio de Janeiro. She narrowly missed three attempts at 16-3.

“For her to set the American one week and then almost break it again the next week, it has Sandi feeling really good about how she’s jumping now,” Compton said. “Her technique was tons better her last two meets than it was at the Trials.

“We’ll keep working on that and have a few practice sessions in Rio and hopefully keep cleaning it up. Then I think she’ll be all set.”


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