LYNDONVILLE — The bar spanning the top of the pole vaulting apparatus was set at 15 feet, 7.48 inches, a height Jenn Suhr can’t possibly ever forget.

That was precisely where the pole vaulting bar sat on Aug. 6 at Olympic Stadium in London when she soared up and over to win the gold medal.

And now here she was on Friday night, staring down the runway at 15-7 again.

Except this wasn’t London. Or Boston. Or Zurich. Or New York City. Hardly.

This was Smalltown USA; a backyard barbeque turned sanctioned pole vault event, smack dab in the quiet, homespun village of Lyndonville.

On a golf course, no less.

“They’re always in the street or on tracks or in a mall, but never on a golf course,” Suhr said of pole vaulting competitions, “so this was first.”

The things you find in Orleans County.

The pole vault runway split the middle of the second fairway of White Birch Golf Course, which just happens to be owned by Suhr’s brother-in-law, Harold. A lob wedge behind their jump site was the green for the second hole, the flag rarely and barely moving in Friday evening’s sticky, tropical air.

All of five or six feet from the runway were the first rows of chairs for family and friends. Behind them, maybe a couple hundred people sat in lawn chairs or stood on the slight incline to watch.

“I loved how the people were so close,” said competitor Janice Keppler of nearby Medina, who currently ranks fourth among American women pole vaulters.

To be sure, this bucolic USA Track & Field-sanctioned jump — the first in a series of three events making up the New York Invitational at White Birch — was engulfed by a surreal feel. Jenn and friends putting on a show in the middle of the countryside.

Maybe 40 yards to the right of Suhr, Keppler and the four other competitors stood a chicken coop. At no point did the dozen or so birds pay any attention to this pole vaulting extravaganza taking place in their front yard.

To the competitors’ left was a fountain, hurling water skyward from the golf course’s man-made pond.

Directly behind them was New York State Route 63. At least twice during the two-hour event, a tractor came rolling by, farm machinery in tow. Cars and pickups slowed with curiosity as they passed by.

If they only knew they were staring at the defending Olympic gold medalist and current No. 1-ranked pole vaulter in the world.

“You don’t get to see an Olympic gold medalist in our backyard very often,” said Michael O’Keefe of Medina, whose son, Alex, left the event with autographed T-shirt as a souvenir. He took up pole vaulting on the track and field team at Medina High School this spring as a junior.

Alex O’Keefe said he loved watching the world-class competition on Friday.

This was pretty much like the Pittsburgh Penguins showing up to play a game on your neighbor’s backyard rink. This was Usain Bolt trying to break the world record for 100 meters in the Wegmans parking lot.

Things like this simply don’t happen. But it did on Friday night, and will again on June 7 and 14 in the same place.

For Suhr, the event was a way to compete in a relaxed atmosphere while preparing for the U.S. Track & Field Championships, which are June 20-23 in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s about freshening up, making sure things are right,” she said.

Suhr flew over her Olympic gold height seemingly with ease on her first attempt on Friday night. “You think, ‘That’s the height that won the Olympics,’ but I’ve evolved so much; I’m way past that,” she said.

She then set the bar at 16-1 but failed to clear it cleanly on all three tries. She expects to go that high, or higher, in Iowa though. “The height was there, I was just coming down short on it,” Suhr said.

She won’t be on a golf course in Des Moines, either.


Suhr Vaulter Magazine
Suhr Vaulter Magazine

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