Suhr relishes breaking indoor pole vault mark
Jenn Suhr wanted to spend their short vacation time in Florida riding roller-coasters at Disney World, while her husband preferred to visit some water parks.
To settle the matter, the couple went with this: Whoever just broke the world indoor pole vaulting record got to pick.
“I guess Disney wins,” Suhr’s husband and coach Rick Suhr said in a phone interview Monday. “That jump she made, wow, it was incredible.”
Jenn Suhr toppled the mark of Yelena Isinbayeva last weekend at the U.S. indoor championships when she cleared 16 feet, 5 inches. No one other than the Russian great has held that indoor mark in nine years.
Well, until now.
For so long, Isinbayeva has been an overwhelming presence in women’s pole vaulting, almost unbeatable and setting world records that were virtually untouchable.
And then along came Suhr, who cracked Isinbayeva’s aura of invincibility when she upset Isinbayeva for gold at the 2012 London Games.
Now Suhr has her world indoor record as well. Isinbayeva had the mark up to 16-5 1/4 with a jump last year.
“No one really ever thought it would ever be broken by someone else,” said the 31-year-old Suhr, who’s from Churchville, N.Y. “That’s what is so shocking about it and exciting about it.”
Knocking Isinbayeva’s name from the top spot in the record book was viewed as the equivalent of beating Usain Bolt’s time of 9.58 seconds in the 100 or someone surpassing Sergei Bubka’s vault of 20 feet 1 3/4 inches.
There were people saying that Yelena’s record could be up there for 30 years,” her husband said. “That’s how monumental of record it was.”
Not bad for a converted basketball star who trains in a facility custom-built by her husband in western New York. Rick Suhr has connected two steel Quonset huts, one with a long, narrow tunnel measuring 100 feet for the run-up. That feeds into the bigger room which has a ceiling with enough clearance for any vault – or so they once thought.
The way she’s leaping lately, he may have to do some remodeling.
This record could be the sign of things to come, especially if she can stay healthy.
Jenn Suhr has recently been plagued by one nagging ailment after another, dealing with an Achilles injury, a gluten allergy that has caused sometime-debilitating sickness and lower back problems.
“She’s been jumping at only about 75 percent for two years straight,” her husband said. “Somehow, she’s still been ranked No. 1 in the world. If I can if I keep her healthy, I know what Jenn can jump high. I don’t think she’s been fully healthy since 2009.”
This season got off to a tough start, too.
In January, she was vaulting in their unique facility when she drifted left, missed the pad and struck her left hip on a steel support beam.
She kept on jumping.
Two days later at a meet, her hip began really hurting. So much so that she backed off training and only did shorter vaults to let her hip mend.
A week before nationals, she competed at a small meet in Indiana, just to get her timing down. In that meet, she put it all together – a perfect approach and flawless form over the bar.
“We thought, ‘If I did that at nationals, the world record could be in danger,'” she said.
Around that time, Rick Suhr had a heart-to-heart discussion with his wife. He had a similar one with her in London, telling her that nobody was unbeatable and she could knock off Isinbayeva.
She went out and did just that.
This time, the message wasn’t so pleasant.
After a so-so training session, he tersely told her that she just wasn’t jumping “anywhere near her potential” and that she could soar so much higher if she just believed in herself.
Sure, she was upset. But she knew he might be on to something.
Just before attempting the world record at nationals last Saturday, Jenn Suhr’s mind began gravitating toward some negative thoughts: This is too high. This can’t be cleared.
As quickly as those thoughts arrived, she cast them aside. She flew down the runway and glided over the bar for the world mark, a big weight lifted off of her as she fell back into the landing pad.
“I’m trying to think of a word to describe this feeling – excited, that’s really the only word I can say,” she said.
Just a few years ago, Suhr – known then as Stuczynski – was focused on scoring, not soaring. She was leading Roberts Wesleyan, a tiny liberal arts college in upstate New York, to the NAIA championship basketball game by averaging 24.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
It was her determination back then that caught the eye of Rick Suhr. Even at first sight, he believed he could channel the skills of Suhr, a tenacious 6-foot guard/forward, from the court into vaulting.
She gave it a try, finding success right away as she won the NAIA indoor national title in 2005 by clearing just over 13 feet.
She’s been reaching new heights ever since, surpassing Isinbayeva’s indoor mark.
Next up, Isinbayeva’s outdoor record of 16-7 1-4?
“It is a thought,” said Suhr, whose best outdoor vault is 16-1 3/4. “But I think I’ll approach it like indoors – you don’t want to call anything or make any predictions.”