Raising the standard: World’s best pole vaulters land in Omaha


Ana Bellinghausen

If you were looking for Olympian Sam Kendricks hours before he was slated to pole vault in the Capitol District, just know he was downing three pieces of pizza.

Yes, even the top athletes in the world eat pizza – even ones who break American records with a vault of 19 feet, 10 inches at the USA championships.

“It’s so special because it ties me to the legacy of our country,” Kendricks said. “As for being the highest jumper outdoors in 25 years, that’s something that just comes and goes … the other day was just my day.”

Just last Saturday in Des Moines, IA, a 25-year-old record was snapped by the 26-year-old Mississippi native at the USA Track & Field Championships. Five days later, a short two-hour bus drive landed him and 10 other elite vaulters in Omaha. The Omaha Sports Commission kicked off their inaugural “Street Vault” competition at the Capitol District on Thursday, August 1 to showcase America’s greatest athletes.

Among those 11 athletes, all have impressive resumes in their event. On the women’s side, Olympian Sandi Morris competed again after just securing her third consecutive USA championship last week. Following a year full of injuries, Morris continued her reign as the top U.S. female vaulter.

“I’m just very blessed. I couldn’t have done it without my support system and my coach being there for me,” Morris said. “I’m also excited following that up and coming here to have a little fun.”

“Fun” was a loose term to describe the “Street Vault” competition last Thursday. A live DJ, cheerleaders, dancers and hundreds of spectators came to watch and mingle with the best in the world. Prior to elite competition, the nation’s top high schoolers competed for state bragging rights. Nebraska native and event runner-up, Tyce Hruza, from Gothenburg, represented the state.

“I loved it. I knew it would be fun, and it was perfect,” Hruza said. “It was great to watch all of these great vaulters go; I can’t even put it into words.”

While the Nebraska-shaped gold medals may not outshine the competitors’ Olympic and USA hardware, they all made their mark in the state’s heart. Once all of the vaults were said and done, Morris and Kendricks stuck around to sign autographs and take pictures with every fan. Spreading the spirit and passion for pole vault across the nation is all these athletes hope for.

“I love street vaults, and I think it’s the best way to bring new fans into the sport,” Morris said. “Maybe it’ll inspire some kids to go, ‘Hey mom, I want to try this pole vault thing.’ That’s what it’s all about.”