Spotlight on women’s pole vault at US indoor track championships

She has competed against the world’s most talented pole-vaulters and witnessed some of the event’s greatest feats, but Mary Saxer couldn’t help but gush about the achievements of two college seniors.

For the first 17 years of the NCAA indoor women’s pole vault, only one woman had cleared 15 feet — Kaitlin Petrillose of Texas in 2014.

In a 17-hour span in January, both Sandi Morris of Arkansas (15 feet, 1½ inches) and Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin (15-2¼) cleared the bar in record-breaking fashion in separate competitions.

The performances have piqued curiosity and ignited chatter about an event some already have dubbed “The Year of the Vault.”

“The two collegiate women have been jumping out of their minds,” said Saxer, an assistant track and field coach at MIT, where she also trains.

“It’s awesome for pole vault because sometimes pole vault isn’t the most recognized event out there.”

It is Saxer’s hope that the spotlight on pole vaulting carries into the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, which begin Friday at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, the final event of the USATF’s Indoor Championship Series.

Payne is the lone college competitor in the field, her vault the top US mark of 2015.

Payne will match up against Saxer, the indoor national champion from a year ago (15-5½), as well as reigning Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr, who holds the world indoor record (16-5½).

“I’ve never actually jumped against [Payne] before so I’m really excited,” Saxer said.

“I think there’s a lot of anticipation going into it with her, and of course Jenn, the Olympic gold medalist; that’s always exciting.”

Both Saxer and Suhr are familiar with the Reggie Lewis Center, having competed in the New Balance Grand Prix there this month. Saxer took first with a clean flight through 4.50 meters (14-9). Suhr, who had been hampered by illness, finished third after clearing 4.50.

Illness cost distance sprinter Matt Centrowitz the 2014 winter season, though the 25-year-old appears to be making up for lost time in 2015. Centrowitz will compete in the mile, his fifth consecutive weekend of indoor competition. He picked up marquee victories in the Millrose Wanamaker Mile (3:51.35) and the New Balance 1,000 meters, where he lowered his world-leading mark to 2:17.00.

Centrowitz sees the season’s final indoor event as a chance to hit his stride before the move to outside competition.

“For me, the mile, I want to work on some tactics,” Centrowitz said. “With indoors, the middle distance is harder than outdoor track because it’s so tight and you have 12 guys on a tight track. It makes outdoor racing a lot easier when you can manage through.”

He will face stiff competition, including Leo Manzano, a silver medalist in the 1,500 meters at the London Olympics.

The women’s distance events are equally as deep. Millrose Games champion Shannon Rowbury will square off in the mile against Nike Oregon Project teammate Jordan Hasay and Olympian Morgan Uceny.

Pentathlete Sharon Day-Monroe will compete in Boston for the first time since 2009 — the last time the Reggie Lewis Center held the Indoor Championships. The three-time defending champion set the American indoor record last year with 4,805 points.

Alysia Montano, a five-time USA outdoor champion in the 800, is set to compete in a talented 600-meter field that includes 20-year-old Ajee’ Wilson, who ran the world’s fastest 800 in 2014 (1:57.67).

Montano made headlines last June when she competed in the USA outdoor championships while 34 weeks pregnant. Boston will be Montano’s first race back from maternity leave.

The men’s 600 features American indoor record-holder Brycen Spratling and 2014 USA indoor 800 champion Erik Sowinski.




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