The South has risen again, literally, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that with the help of a pole, a Southerner has soared in Rio de Janiero. Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks made it over the pole vault bar at the height of 19 feet, 2-¼ inches, and took a bronze medal on Monday night at the Rio Olympics. He is the first military member of the U.S. team to medal in 2016.
It was also the first time the US had taken a medal in the pole vault event in 12 years, when Tim Mack won the gold, and Toby Stevenson won the silver in the 2004 Athens, Greece games.
In keeping with the times, and demonstrating the popularity of Twitter, Army Secretary Eric Fanning tweeted the following on Monday night:
“Congrats @samkendricks! USA!” “#ArmyOlympian #TeamUSA.” On Tuesday morning Fanning added, “Still thinking about @SamKendricks’s medal last night. Now, even more energized for my trip to #Rio2016. #ArmyProud.” Secretary Fanning will be part of the delegation that will arrive in Rio as part of the Sunday closing ceremonies.
While Kendricks led the competition after the qualifying rounds, he was bested by Brazil’s Thiago Silva and France’s Renaud Lavillenie in the finals.
Silva won gold with an Olympic record of 19 feet, 8 inches with the deafening support of Brazilian fans. They were so loud that defending Olympic champion Lavillenie, who is also the world record holder, complained about the crowd booing him on his final jump. “There is no respect. There is no fair play. It’s the Olympics. So if we have no respect in the Olympics, where can we get respect?” Lavillenie makes a fair point, and there was a time when that kind of behavior was unheard of, especially at the Olympics.
Kendricks is from Oxford, Mississippi, and set the state high school pole vaulting record in 2009. He graduated from Ole Miss in 2014 and is the five-time U.S. champion. He also represented Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics.
I appreciated the fact that Kendricks is cognizant that “the whole world is watching,” and sets a standard for his men and all members of the armed services. He said, “As a military man and as a U.S. athlete, I keep my haircut in order to put the best foot forward for all the soldiers who are watching. Those guys are really proud of me and have given me every chance to continue as a civilian.” He added that he was proud “to represent the Americans on two fronts, as a military man and as a U.S. athlete.”
While writing this article I learned something interesting about Olympic pole vaulting, and that is that it is one of the least regulated of the sports. The pole can be any length or diameter that the vaulter finds comfortable. It can be made out of anything, and can be wrapped in tape at both ends. The only hard and fast rule is that the surface be smooth. Well, we in the South think Sam’s performance has indeed been pretty smooth in a good way, and he has done us proud as a soldier, as well as an athlete. Congratulations, Lt. Kendricks, and may both your careers be long and filled with honor.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner