After 15 national championships and an Olympic gold medal, you might think winning pole vault competitions would begin to get old for Jenn Suhr. On the contrary, the best female vaulter in American history says it always feels like the first time.
“No, each one is hard,” Suhr said by phone Sunday, two days after winning her eighth U.S. women’s outdoor title in Sacramento. “Every time I enter a U.S. championship, it’s the same. There’s anxiety; I can’t sleep the night before, worrying about how I’m going to do. Each one has its challenges, so each one is special.”
The challenge this time was as elemental as carbon. After Suhr lost in the U.S. and World Indoors last winter, she and her coach/husband, Rick Suhr, went back to the old quonset hut in Churchville and tried something new. She switched from a fiberglass pole to carbon, the material of choice for of most of the world’s elite male and female vaulters.
The Suhrs had considered the change before the 2012 Olympics in London, but determined that it would be too much of a risk so soon before the Games - where Jenn won the Olympic gold medal.
But on Friday in the USA Track and Field Championships, Suhr used the new carbon pole on the track at Sacramento State. She cleared 15 feet, 1 inch to win the national title with ease. Suhr, the top-ranked vaulter in the world the last two years, has now won eight U.S. outdoor titles and seven indoors.
Last fall, when Suhr was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, she said she was still peaking as an athlete as she approached 32. She feels the same way after winning another national title.
“Yeah, I feel I have some promising things ahead,” she said, with switching poles and jumping carbon now. “I’m just figuring out the timing of those. It’s a more aggressive pole. This is my first title on a carbon pole. So it was a big deal.”
Rick Suhr certainly felt so. He said it was “mind-boggling” to think his wife had won 15 national championships in the pole vault, a capricious sport in which so many things can conspire against you on a given day in a season.
“I’d say Marion Jones was the most celebrated track and field athlete of the last 20 years,” Rick Suhr said. “She won 14 of these. So it’s pretty unbelievable when you see she passed her. Marion was also doing three events, so she had three different opportunities.”
Suhr has the most national titles of any active American track and field performer. She had to battle windy conditions in Sacramento to win her 15th. Both of the Rick’s former pupils from the area - Lancaster’s Mary Saxer and Medina’s Janice Keppler - no-heighted at the nationals.
“There’s always a battle,” he said. “They never come easy. They’re absolute dogfights, they really are. It was a difficult place to jump. But as she always does, Jenn brought the game she had to have.”