Olympics: Arkansas’ Lexi Weeks packing her bug spray for Rio

Cabot’s Lexi Weeks is on her way to Rio.

Weeks, 19, the Arkansas Razorback pole vaulter who qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games, and former Razorback Sandi Morris, another first-time Olympian, were to fly Tuesday to Houston for more team processing before joining many other American Olympians for the flight to Brazil.

Weeks went a career-best 15 feet, 5 inches at the United States Olympic Trials last month in Eugene, Ore., to qualify third for the three-woman American team that will compete in Rio de Janeiro. Jen Suhr, the defending Olympic champion, qualified atop the American squad.

Opening ceremonies are Friday. Pole vault prelims will be Aug. 16 with the finals Aug. 19.

“I don’t know a whole lot of what to expect,” Weeks said from Fayetteville last week. “We’ll train at the Naval facility or something like that, track and field and maybe swimming. We’ll see how it goes when we get there. We’ll train until the prelims. We won’t do a whole lot of hard workouts, just get some shakeouts and a little bit of pole vaulting.”

Arkansas vault coach Bryan Compton will join Weeks and Morris, who have trained together in Fayetteville all year.

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Weeks, who won the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Indoor and Outdoor titles as an Arkansas freshman but who said she never dreamed she’d spend the rest of her summer in Rio.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “Going into (the Trials) I didn’t expect to make the team. I guess I figured if I had the meet of my life I might make it, but there were three girls (Suhr, Morris and Demi Payne) ranked ahead of me, and I knew if they were going to have their day, there was no way for me. Demi didn’t have the day she was hoping to have. She’d jumped 16 feet last indoor season.”

But Payne, who had the third-best mark in the country this year (16 feet, 3-4 inch), failed to qualify for the finals.

Then, Weeks said, she saw a slight opening.

“Right away, I was like, ‘If I have my day, maybe,’ but at the same time, it was not just those three,” she said. “There were several others with experience. But Sandi had been telling me for months, ‘You never know; if someone has a bad day,’ and after the prelims she told me, ‘You really have a shot.’ I was like, ‘We’ll just see.’

“Then fast-forward to the finals, when I was making each bar and getting more and more confident.”

Weeks cleared 14-5 1-4, 14-9, 15-1 and 15-3 — each on her first try — to secure her spot on the team. She missed on her first attempt at 15-5 but cleared the personal record on her second.

The secret to her success at storied Hayward Field?

“Honestly, I think it was the atmosphere,” she said. “I’d never been in a meet where the stands were so packed, and the crowd would roar on every jump. There was so much adrenaline.”

She said Hayward Field had been full for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June, but for the Olympic Trials, four more grandstands were brought in “so there were stands surrounding the track, not just the home and visitor’s side.”

“It was just crazy,” she said. “The whole experience was just awesome. The environment was so cool.”

She said that after she cleared 15-3, it dawned on her that might have been enough. She, Morris and Suhr turned out to be the only ones to make that height.

“Watching the other girls take their first, second and third attempts — it’s kind of a hard sport to watch,” Weeks said. “Watching girls I’m friends with — you want them to do good, but at the same time, every miss puts me closer to making the team. When the last one went out and I realized I’d made the team, Sandi and I just hugged each other. I was bawling; it was so surreal to me, and so unexpected.”

She said she purposely went into the Trials with no pressure on herself.

“There was no point,” she said. “I’d already had a great season, and this was icing on the cake. I was nervous because I’d never pole vaulted in front of that many people, but there was so much excitement. At nationals, I was expected to win and get points for my team. That was a lot harder. I think I was able to perform so well at the Trials because I was there to have fun.”

In a year, she has improved her PR from 14-7 1-2 (the outdoor national high school record) to 15-5. She went 14-9 in her first collegiate meet to secure the Olympic-qualifying standard. Two meets later, she went 15-1, then it was 15-2 1-4 at Indoor nationals, then 15-2 3-4 at a home outdoor meet.

“Especially at 15 feet and above, every little centimeter counts so much,” she said.

Weeks is making her first trip out of the country a big one. She said she hoped to be able to watch some of the other Olympic sports while she’s there.

“Sandi and I were talking the other day at practice about that, and she mentioned beach volleyball,” Weeks said. “That would be so cool. I’ve loved watching that.”

And she isn’t worried about any of the Olympic controversies that have been all over the news.

“With Zika, I’ll wear a lot of bug spray,” she said. “I feel like they’ve, hopefully, taken a lot of measures to kill the mosquitoes. One of the other Olympians, (former Razorback) Omar McLeod, was telling me that our rooms weren’t ready.

“But I’m just thankful to be there,” she said. “I hope they have it figured out by the time I get there. But to be an Olympian is such an honor in itself; whatever happens, I’ll make do.”





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