Kendricks prepares for pole vault at Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO – If Sam Kendricks had his way, those he calls his Russian friends would be in Rio to compete against him in pole vault at the Olympics.

Instead, Ilya Mudrov and other Russian vaulters are banned from the Olympics by the international track federation (IAAF) along with almost the entirety of the Russian track team because of a systematic doping scandal.

The unprecedented ban could significantly change results in Rio, where track and field competition opens Friday. Kendricks was the winner at the U.S. Olympic Trials and is No. 2 in the world for 2016 with a vault of 19 feet, 5 inches.

France’s Renaud Lavillenie, Canada’s Shawn Barber and Kendricks are leading medal contenders, with qualifying Saturday and the finals Monday.

“I’m kind of disappointed that this issue didn’t come a lot sooner so that the clean athlete could shine through and more due process,” Kendricks said. “But you have to understand that it’s just a process the sport has to go through to grow. More light on this issue makes this so that everybody is held to the same standard.

“I’m unhappy that several of my Russian friends were not able to compete. I have no doubt in their ability to compete fairly, but that’s the nature of the beast this year.”

Kendricks, who is 23 and from Oxford, followed his parents, Scott and Leanne, into track (they were runners). Scott continues to coach his son, as he has from the start.

He is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army reserve who set a trials record (19-4 ¾) on the Fourth of July in Eugene, Oregon.

“Those guys (in his unit in Millington, Tenn.) are really proud of me and have given me every chance to continue as a civilian,” Kendricks said. “I am certainly looking to represent the Americans on two fronts — as a military man and as a U.S. athlete.”

The last American Olympic pole vault champion was Tim Mack in 2004 when Toby Stevenson also took silver. Kendricks is the best hope for ending a two-Olympic medals drought in the event. He improved from ninth at the 2015 World Outdoor Championships to second at the 2016 World Indoor and now is making his Olympics debut.

“It depends on the day and conditions of the meet to see how everyone will do,” Kendricks said. “The event is very open and everyone will have to be most competitive.”





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