NEWS | Aug. 18, 2016

Army Reserve officer's journey to Rio trumps Olympic bronze in pole vault

By Tim Hipps U.S. Army Installation Management Command

RIO DE JANEIRO (Aug. 16, 2006) -- Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks was content to walk away with the Olympic bronze medal following what he called "the most enjoyable pole vault competition of his life" Aug. 15 at the Rio Olympic Games.

It took two Olympic records, set by the gold and silver medalists, to top Kendricks' vault of 19 feet 2 inches and push him to third place on a rainy Monday night at the Olympic Stadium.  

"I know that the Olympics is like a high tide, it raises all boats," Kendricks said. "It brings the best out of all of us. I was so happy to watch my friend Thiago set his personal best, in his home country, in front of his home crowd. "I think that I thrived off that as well." 

Brazil's Thiago Braz da Silva won the gold with an Olympic record vault of 19 feet, 9 inches. France's Renaud Lavillenie took the silver at 19 feet 7 inches. 

"I did not set a personal best but I attempted it, and I missed it very close three times, so I cannot be ashamed of my effort," said Kendricks, 23, a University of Mississippi graduate from Oxford who has been pole vaulting for 10 years. "I'm very proud of my bronze." 

"This particular competition was a lot of fun to me. I knew all of the competitors by name. They are all good friends of mine. We travel together and have competed together many times. We even trade victories very often."  

Kendricks further elaborated about the "down home" atmosphere of the pole vault event at South America's inaugural Olympics. 

"It didn't feel like the Olympic final while I was out there," Kendricks continued. "I know that's odd to say, but we all knew each other so well and there were so many bumps and hurdles in the middle, it kind of didn't feel like a smooth-running Olympic event. It felt more like friends jumping out there together."  

The drama peaked as the clock approached midnight, partly because of rain delays, which made for one long night at the pole vault pit.  

"I learned today that nobody pays attention to the weather in Brazil because it can change so fast," Kendricks said. "We just had to adapt to that. I doubted that they would move the competition to tomorrow because the Rio de Janeirians and the people of Brazil love to stay out late and they would stay around to watch." 

 "Thiago fed off that, for sure," he said. 

 After missing his third attempt at 5.93 meters or 19 feet 5 inches, Kendricks became a spectator. "It was a beautiful moment to watch something completely unexpected happen," Kendricks said. "Renaud jumps an Olympic record, and you think that's the end of it, and then Thiago passes [that height] and then comes up with another [Olympic record]. I thought I was in a movie." 

Kendricks said he will be proud to take the bronze medal home to Mississippi from Rio de Janeiro.  

"All my unit is watching back home, the 655th Road Dogs." 

"They say back home, and jokingly in track circles, that if you win a medal it will change your life," Kendricks continued. "I think your life is changed on the way to that medal. With all the journeys and sacrifices that you make and all the training that you do, and the people you leave at home to watch, that is really the value of the medal. I'm glad I have something tangible to bring home and show for it. I know that everybody in Oxford, my hometown, will love to see it. 

"But the journey, like my coach says, is the goal, not necessarily the medals." 

His future journey will include time serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Reserves.  

"I like to keep my options open, but I would certainly love to compete for the United States Army in any capacity, like the World Military Games, especially," Kendricks concluded. "That's something I'm really excited about the prospect of in the future."