The World Indoor women’s vault comp, as stick jumps go, was a wee bit epic and eventual winner Sandi Morris knew it before her day began. History’s four highest vaulters who are neither retired (Yelena Isinbaeva) nor “semi-retired” (hello, Jenn Suhr) were on hand.
While Yarisley Silva hadn’t shown 16-foot form in the last three years, Morris knew that Anzhelika Sidorova was ready to join that club.
“I definitely couldn’t let my guard down even for a second,” says Morris, who had to equal her 16-2¾ (4.95) indoor best on third attempt to triumph over the up-and-coming Russian.
Morris held up her guard with intensity—just look at this issue’s cover—but her poles got in two vicious shots. First on her third-try make at 15-9 (4.80).
“When I was going over the bar the top of my pole, as I was falling it clipped my elbow right on my funny bone,” she says. “I was half celebrating because I had just made 4.80, which pretty much I knew I was going to medal with that.
“But then the other half was like, ‘Omigod!’ because the arm was in so much pain because it hit the ulnar nerve and my right hand from the elbow to the tips of my fingers went numb for about 5 seconds.”
As soon as the arm “kinda came back to life” she “felt terrible pain in my elbow and I was not even sure if I’d be able to pick up a pole.”
When Olympic and world champ Katerína Stefanídi followed her over the height (Sidorova was over already), Morris’s pick-up-a-pole test arrived promptly.
“I think I had so much adrenaline pumping through me that that’s really what helped me get through,” she says.
Morris missed on that try at 15-11 (4.85) and after Sidorova’s make forced a pass to higher altitude, the American got over 16-¾ (4.90) on second. Exactly what was needed to win, but as she nailed it her pole attacked again.
“I went over the bar and the pole was right underneath me, and as I was falling the top of the pole jabbed me right in my thigh,” she says. ”It could have been a lot worse, honestly.”
Yup. A photo on Twitter shows a mid-air Morris screaming and the pole digging deep into the front of her leg.
Although the stick didn’t break skin, Morris says, “The muscle just immediately cramped and there’s just a huge knot on my thigh.
“In every photograph after that I’ve got a huge balloon for an elbow and a giant knot on my thigh. It looks like I just went through battle.”
Yes, a battle that brought Morris, now 25, her first global title after three silvers (’16 WIC, ’16 Olympics, ’17 outdoor Worlds).
“It’s the hardest I’ve ever had to work for a medal, she says. “I kept making bars on third attempts. I made 80 and then I made 90, and at that point I was like, ‘There’s no turning back. I don’t care if my elbow’s hurting, I don’t care if my leg is throbbing, I’m making 95, I’m winning this today.’ ”
Winning 3 weeks after back pain—now diagnosed as transient disk protrusions Morris believes tend to flare up in the weightroom—forced her withdrawal from the Millrose Games.
Morris and her medics don’t expect lasting ill effects from her pole hard knocks in Birmingham. However, her win helped cement a conviction:
“I’m the fastest pole vaulter in the world, I have just as much speed as Yelena and Jenn did or ever had. I’m tall enough, I’m 5-8½ [1.74], I’ve got plenty of height. I could break the World Record, I’ve just got to figure out how to do it.
“So I’ve been after it for a while and I know I’m physically capable of it, but it’s figuring out how to do that.”