NORTH CHILI — Jenn Suhr has flown through the air all over the world, but the Olympic pole vault champion had never done it at her alma mater, Roberts Wesleyan College, with this many fans watching.
“It’s great support, a great crowd that comes out. The energy is fantastic,” the Riga resident said Friday night after an estimated 2,500 fans cheered as she won a vault-off against some other local competitors. “I’m glad people could come and see it without spending their life savings — to go to London costs a lot of money.”
London is where she won gold last month. Friday was the second stop on her “Victory Tour.” The next and last is 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Ralph Wilson Stadium Fieldhouse. That event, which precedes the Buffalo Bills’ game against the New England Patriots, should be a lot like Friday’s in that it’ll expose fans to something they may never have seen live before: pole vaulting.
“There’s definitely a different energy seeing it in person,” said Roberts Wesleyan student and Aquinas graduate Katy Perry, 19.
Suhr, the 30-year-old who won Olympic silver in 2008, won Friday by clearing 15 feet, 6 inches. That’s an inch shy of her Olympic winning vault but still the best by an American female this year. The runner-up was Mike Dempsey, a Gates Chili graduate and assistant coach at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Other competitors were Livonia native Dave Fritz, a former three-time All-Big East pick at Virginia Tech; Binghamton-area native Mandy Jenkins; Brockport graduate and former Section V champion Claire Dishong; and Tracy Lippincott, a former vaulter for Rutgers and SUNY Brockport.
“Anytime you have somebody who is the best in the world at what they do … people are going to come to watch it,” said Suhr’s coach and husband, Rick Suhr, the former state champion wrestler from Spencerport.
She just missed three times at 15 feet, 11½ inches, but the crowd was revved up and into it each time she sprinted down the runway and launched her body into the air.
“I don’t know if the general public understands how tough it is to do. I appreciate it a lot,” said Eastridge High School graduate Casey Law, 18, a Roberts Wesleyan freshman who has tried vaulting. “(She’s) a homegrown hero.”
Suhr grew up in Fredonia, south of Buffalo, but she is a 2004 Roberts graduate and former basketball standout for the school.
“She’s really amazing and the fact is she came from where we (are) is really inspiring, like we could do that,” said Perry, a track performer from Greece who is also a Roberts soccer player.
That’s what Jenn Suhr wants others to believe.
“I want to inspire them. I want them to believe they can do something and try something new. … I never tried pole vault. I was scared of it, but I tried it,” she said. “Kids need to try things they might not be comfortable with or scared of. Just go try it.”
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