OXFORD – A few moments after winning the U.S. Outdoor pole vault title last week, Sam Kendricks was joined by a couple of legends.
There was Tim Mack, the last American to win Olympic gold in the pole vault, on Kendricks’ left. To his right, one-time American record holder Jeff Hartwig. Kendricks’ back hurt; he was lying on the floor and trying to drink enough water to go take a drug test. But for a 21-year-old Oxford native that still has a year of college at Ole Miss left … wow.
“I was a fangirl over these guys,” Kendricks said.
In the last two months, Kendricks has won the Southeastern Conference outdoor championship, his second NCAA outdoor championship and then the U.S. Outdoors on Sunday. In the process, he’s established himself as a likely contender for spots on the United States team at the World Championships in 2015 and then the 2016 Olympics. He also has to be mentioned internationally: the 5.75 meters he cleared in Sacramento, California, was the fourth-best this year in the world. Which is why Mack and Hartwig were there on the floor for a reason.
“They said, ‘Sam, you’re an animal,'” Kendricks said.
Kendricks’ backstory, which you may see in two years on NBC, is charming: the son of a track coach, Kendricks realized in middle school he wasn’t the fastest or strongest but that the pole vault does not require that. So father and son learned the sport together, and then the son decided to enjoy the comforts of staying close to home by enrolling at Ole Miss.
Somewhere along the way, Kendricks’ ability went far past what could realistically be envisioned all those years before. He credits an unusual training style: instead of a few jumps for high distance, Kendricks trains like a sprinter: go fast and try to be perfect. It’s perhaps why he has developed a reputation as someone who will have to be beaten, because he’s consistently on his game.
He’s also a model student-athlete who claims having to balance both makes him more strong-minded than the professionals he now routinely faces, and a member of the university’s ROTC program. He leaves Sunday for Fort Hood, Kentucky, where he’ll spend the next month going through Army cadet training.
“When it comes down to it, next year I have a couple of choices to make,” Kendricks said. “Do I want to continue in the vaulting scene? I certainly do. Do I want to continue being active-duty Army? Army has its World Class Athlete Program, and that’s something I talked about last weekend with Dan Browne (marathoner and member of the Army WCAP).”
Kendricks said he hopes to jump in “20” events with Ole Miss next year, and as many more leading up to the World Championships in Beijing. He’s pushed back his post-commission officer training for that. As far as 2016 and the Rio Olympics: “I’m open.”
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