Former Ole Miss pole vaulter and Oxford, Miss. native Sam Kendricks placed third in the Olympic pole vault in Rio Monday night, breaking a 12-year medal drought for the U.S. in that event. Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson took gold and silver in the Athens Games of 2004, respectively, and Kendricks’ bronze caps off an already stellar 2016 season.
Torrential rain delayed proceedings in the pole vault final for about an hour in Rio, an especially dangerous weather situation for vaulters, who rely on a strong and steady pivot spot in the vault pit.
Kendricks cleared the 5.85-meter round and looked strong on his first vault attempt at 5.93 meters. He didn't clear the bar on any of his three attempts, however, and had he done so that would have notched his career best. Still, a bronze medal against the world's best competition -- including Thiago Braz da Silva of Brazil and Renaud Lavillenie of France -- is no small thing, and Kendricks still has plenty of years of vaulting ahead of him.
Lavillenie took silver with a jump of 5.98 meters while da Silva gave the home crowd a gold medal to cheer for with an Olympic record of 6.03, the first time anyone has ever gone over 6 meters in an Olympic competition.
Coming into this Olympiad, Kendricks had notched the second-highest vault of 2016 at 19’5-1⁄4 and then bested Tim Mack’s U.S. Olympic qualifying meet record back on July 4th with a vault of 19’4-3⁄4.
Kendricks made headlines earlier this summer after qualifying for the Rio Games and electing to prepare for the competition in Oxford rather than train at the USA Track & Field facilities in Houston, Texas. "You go to all these places in the world and you get tastes of Stade Louis in Monaco, which is one of the nicest outdoor track facilities in the world, or you go to Ireland and they have a beautiful indoor facility for track and field or you go to Germany and they have all these clubs," said Kendricks, who won two national championships while at Ole Miss from 2012 to 2014.
"But for us, it doesn’t really have the character of Oxford (Middle) School. It doesn’t have the cool personality factor that we built this place. Our sweat and blood is in this track and this facility and this town. It’s nice to visit those places, but I wouldn’t want to stay there."
Though he originally was a walk-on to the Rebel track and field team, it was in his junior year at Ole Miss that everything started falling into place for Kendricks, as he claimed the Southeastern Conference, NCAA and U.S. outdoor championships in 2014.
A former ROTC member at Ole Miss, Kendricks also currently serves as a second lieutenant in the 655th Transportation Company of the Army Reserves in Millington, Tenn.
"Those guys (in his unit in Millington, Tenn.) are really proud of me and have given me every chance to continue as a civilian," Kendricks said. "I am certainly looking to represent the Americans on two fronts — as a military man and as a U.S. athlete."
Kendricks’ deep ties to Lafayette County has sent ripples throughout Oxford during these Summer Games, prompting myriad JUMP SAM JUMP banners and other shows of support. Sam was already a hometown hero before the 2016 Olympics began, and Monday’s vaulting has cemented his place in O-Town lore. #JumpSamJump.