Kelsie Ahbe won’t be a favorite to win the women’s pole vault at the Rio Olympics next month, but she’s already beat the odds just by making the field.
Ahbe, who trains in Knoxville under former Tennessee All-American and Olympic gold medalist Tim Mack, battled back from a stress fracture in her foot in January and a torn hamstring in June to make the Canadian Olympic team on July 10.
“Going into Rio I’m absolutely 100 percent the underdog considering the year I had,” Ahbe said last Thursday. “I could probably be last on the list (of qualifiers). I haven’t looked, but that’s the place I really like to be. I thrive in that position and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Ahbe, 25, was third in the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, after attaining the Olympic qualifying height in a meet last summer.
It wasn’t exactly a lifelong dream for Ahbe to make the Olympics.
Her father was born and raised in Canada — which allows her to compete for the country’s Olympic team — and Kelsie played soccer, swam, ran track, competed in the pole vault and did club gymnastics year around through high school in Green, Ohio.
“For me, it’s been something that’s been like a vault over time,” she said of reaching the Olympics.
“I think that’s really special and important for people to know because it’s like I’ve dreamed a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more with every single step along my journey, and different coaches in different sports have been instrumental in helping me get to where I am today.”
After winning two state pole vault titles at Green High School, Ahbe signed with Indiana University, where she was a two-time All-American and runner-up in the pole vault at the 2014 NCAA championships as a fifth-year graduate student.
Soon, she faced a crucial decision while serving a job internship in Bloomington, Ind.
Ahbe had been in contact with Mack about training when she was offered a full-time job, but in September of 2014 opted to relocate in Knoxville to continue her pole vault career.
“I just felt like I had more to give, and I didn’t want to give it up yet,” she said. “You can only do this for so long. There’s an expiration date on what your body can do, but I can always get a job.”
Her training was derailed in January when she was diagnosed with the stress fracture in her foot and wasn’t able to train again until the end of April.
Ahbe then tore a hamstring in early June, but managed to rehab in time for Canada’s Olympic Trials, where she tied with Anica Newell (4.35 meters) for second but finished third on misses.
“She’s been through a lot of injuries this year, so for her to come back from that is pretty impressive,” said Mack, who won the gold in Athens in 2004. “She’s been hanging in there, and I think it actually kind of works out a little bit better because she’s on the upslope right now (of training).”
Ahbe had that in mind when she went to Canada’s Olympic Trials. Qualifying rounds in Rio for women’s pole vault are Aug. 16 with finals three days later.
“I may not be at my best right this moment, but I knew that I could still compete to make the (Canadian) team, and that was the goal: go there, make the team, and then I get a solid month of training to prepare for the Games,” she said.