FAYETTEVILLE — World-leading pole vaulter Sandi Morris hopes to celebrate her 24th birthday Friday by showing at the U.S. Olympic Trials her left wrist is fully healed from a fractured bone she sustained May 20.
The pole vault qualifying round is Friday in Eugene, Ore., to determine who will advance to Sunday’s final. The top three vaulters Sunday will represent the U.S. at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“Hopefully it’s a happy birthday,” said Morris, an NCAA champion and three-time All-American at Arkansas. “I’m keeping my chin up and no matter what happens, I know I’ve done every single thing I can to prepare regardless of the injury.”
Morris cleared a world-best outdoors this year of 15 feet, 10 inches in Doba, Oatar May 6 to extend her streak of going at least 15-5 to 11 meets.
Two weeks later Morris was looking to make it 12 in a row at a meet in the Czech Republic when her pole snapped as she went airborne to clear the bar.
Morris said it was the third time she broke a pole, but the first time in competition from a full speed approach. The first two times it happened came during practice on short approaches.
“The pole happened to break right underneath where my left hand was gripping it, so all the shock went straight to my wrist,” she said. “Just the sheer force of it breaking threw my hand down so violently that it fractured the tip of my ulna.”
The ulna is a bone that connects the wrist to the elbow.
“It was frustrating to go all the way to the Czech Republic and have that happen, especially knowing I wasn’t too out far from the Olympic Trials,” Morris said. “But it could have been worse.”
Recovery time for the fracture to heal normally is six weeks, Morris said, and she was injured exactly seven weeks before vaulting at the U.S. Trials.
“I’m lucky it happened seven weeks before the Trials and not three weeks before,” she said. “I still would have competed, but there would have been a lot more pain.”
Morris has been able to go through two full approach vaulting sessions this week after having an X-ray on the wrist and being medically cleared.
“The healing went very quickly and really well,” she said. “Now it’s more about my body realizing I’m healed and letting the memory of that injury kind of fade away.”
There probably will be some wrist soreness, Morris said, when she vaults Friday and hopefully Sunday, but not enough to be a major problem.
“I think once I get out there competing with all that adrenaline, it’s going to mask that,” she said. “I should be fine.”
Before the injury Morris was a heavy favorite to make the U.S. team. Last year as an Arkansas senior she finished second at the U.S. Outdoor Championships and fourth at the World Championships.
This year indoors she won the U.S. title — beating 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr — and was second at the World Championships to Suhr.
Track & Field News projects Morris to finish second at the Trials behind Suhr, despite the injury
“Maybe the injury was a blessing in disguise,” Morris said. “It’s given me a lot of drive, that’s for sure.
“It’s kept me from getting complacent, and if everything happens easily for you, then you don’t really appreciate it.
“This is one of those little bumps in the road that makes you appreciate success when you reach it.”
Arkansas assistant Bryan Compton continues to coach Morris and said her practices have gone well and the wrist is good to go.
“Now it’s just a matter of getting our timing back, and I think that’ll come together fairly quickly,” Compton said.
Morris did plenty of running and jumping to maintain her speed and conditioning after the injury, along with some drills where she gripped the pole with only her right hand.
“Without using your left wrist, you can still do tons of stuff and stay in really, really great shape,” Morris said. “I learned to do one-arm drills where you just grab a pole and push it down the runway with your top hand, but not have your bottom hand involved.
“Just push the pole and do a takeoff and land in he pit. It’s super simple, but keeps that feeling of taking off. I’d plant the pole and then swing upside down and land on my back rather than turning and going over something.”
Arkansas freshman Lexi Weeks, who also will vault at the U.S. Trials, has been training with Morris.
“She’s handled coming back from her injury so well and been so positive throughout the whole experience,” Weeks said.
Compton said the focus at the U.S. Trials for Morris is making the team, not winning.
“Sandi’s just got to be in one of those top three spots in the final,” Compton said. “We don’t care which one.
“We just need to make the team, and then we’ve got another month to try to get on the medal stand in Rio.”
Morris is counting on giving herself a memorable birthday present this weekend.
“I still feel really confident I can go out there and make this Olympic team,” she said. “I haven’t forgotten how to pole vault in six weeks.”