A HOT DAY, a nice tailwind and a field loaded with young talent had all of the ingredients for an exciting vault competition, and the men did not disappoint. At age 26, Sam Kendricks was the second-oldest competitor, unusual in an event that regularly sees athletes competing well into their 30s. But having won every outdoor USATF Championship since ’14, he is accustomed to a leadership role, and did not disappoint this time around.
While most athletes of his caliber prefer to pass the first few heights of the competition, Kendricks almost always enters at the first bar, preferring to give the audience a good show for as many heights as possible. After clearing the first 6 bars on his first attempt, Kendricks sealed the victory with a clearance at 19-2¾ (5.86), a height no other vaulter was able to clear. Although he wanted to attempt an American Record after this clearance his coach/father, Scott, advised him to attempt 19-4¾ (5.91) first.
After clearing that on his first attempt, he raised the bar to the AR setting of 19-10½ (6.06). Although clearing heights over 6-meters (19-8¼) once seemed impossible for a vaulter on a 4.90 (16-¾) pole—most elites use poles that are around 5.20 (17-¾) in length)—Kendricks had proved the skeptics wrong when he cleared 19-8¼ in similar conditions at the ’17 USATF, and set out to do the same here.
His first attempt at 19-10½ (6.06) brushed the bar and it fell, but this increased his confidence, as he had previously hit bars harder that stayed. On his second attempt, his rivals lined the runway and clapped in support as he took his run. With another well-executed vault, he brushed the bar again on the way down, but this time it stayed up, and the AR became his, eclipsing the 19-10¼ (6.05) set by Mondo Duplantis last year.
As soon as Kendricks hit the pit, the rest of the field began running towards him to tackle him in celebration. As he saw them coming he raised his arms and welcomed them, resulting in a massive dog pile that perfectly embodied his warm relationship with his fellow competitors. (Continued below)
— Sandi Morris, OLY?? (@sandicheekspv) July 27, 2019
As the reigning world champion, Kendricks has a Doha Wild Card, leaving three more spots available for the rest of the field. Rising star Cole Walsh was a pre-meet favorite to make the team, after performing well in recent Diamond League meets, but nearly exited the competition at 18-3 (5.56), needing 3 attempts. He went on to clear 18-10¾ (5.76) on his first attempt to place 2nd with his second-best clearance ever.
Baylor frosh KC Lightfoot cleared a PR 18-10¾ (5.76) on his second attempt to place 3rd, and another frosh, Zach Bradford of Kansas, cleared 18-8¾ (5.71) for 4th and the final spot on the team. NCAA winner Chris Nilsen of South Dakota struggled with a bout of muscle cramps, finishing tied for 7th after only clearing the opening height of 17-11 (5.46), well off his best of 19-6¼ (5.95).
The Kendricks clearance was the best outdoor vault worldwide in 25 years and made him the second-highest vaulter outdoors in history. And his sixth-consecutive win surpassed the 5-year streaks by legends Dutch Warmerdam and Bob Richards, a point of pride for Kendricks after the meet.
USATF MEN’S POLE VAULT RESULTS
1. Sam Kendricks (Nik) 19-10½ (6.06) AR (old AR 19-10¼/6.05 Mondo Duplantis [Swe] ’18) (WL) (=3, x W; non-Bubka—=2, =3 W);
2. Cole Walsh (Nik) 18-10¾ (5.76);
3. KC Lightfoot (Bay) 18-10¾ PR;
4. Zach Bradford (Ks) 18-8¾ (5.71);
5. Scott Houston (Shore) 18-6¾ (5.66);
6. Carson Waters (unat) 18-2¾ (5.56);
=7. Clayton Fritsch (SHous) 17-11 (5.46);
=7. Devin King (unat) 17-11;
=7. Chris Nilsen (SD) 17-11;
=7. Tray Oates (unat) 17-11;
=7. Kyle Pater (USAF) 17-11;
=7. Audie Wyatt (unat) 17-11;
=13. Michael Carr (ArSt) 17-11;
=13. Deakin Volz (VaT) 17-11;
15. Austin Miller (unat) 17-11;
… nh—Brandon Bray (TxT), Matt Ludwig (Akr), Scott Marshall (unat), Jacob Wooten (unat).