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Coach/husband says Jenn Suhr is battling respiratory infection in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Four years ago, on the flight over to London, Rick Suhr looked at his wife, Jenn, and was overcome by the thought that she was finally in top physical shape for an Olympic pole vault competition.

"She's healthy. She's finally healthy and she's not sick," Rick thought to himself that day. He looked out the window of the plane that day and nearly started crying.

Suhr, who is also Jenn's coach, must have been close to tears for a different reason Monday morning. Over the weekend, Jenn became ill with what Rick termed a "nasty virus," which might prevent her from defending the gold medal she won four years ago in London.

"Jenn has fallen quite ill in the last two days," Rick said by text Monday morning. "Hoping we can compete, but looking rough! Picked up what seems to be a nasty virus here. Antibiotics and doctors helping out."

Early Monday afternoon, Rick Suhr said via text that Jenn will vault in Tuesday's qualifying round "if we have to crawl down the runway!"

Later Monday afternoon, in an interview with The Buffalo News at their Brazil hotel, Jenn Suhr could not speak above a whisper. She said it hurt her chest to speak. She said she intends to give it a go tomorrow.

[Jerry Sullivan's interview with Rick Suhr today]

Rick was very emotional as he said that doctors still don't know the exact cause of the virus -- he said he feels helpless. They took every precaution for Rio, Rick said, including bringing their own food and not drinking the water.

Jenn is scheduled to compete in the women's pole vault qualifying Tuesday morning at the Olympic Stadium in Maracana. The competition gets under way at 9:30 a.m. Rio time, with a field of 36 women taking. If she competes Tuesday morning, she would have three days to recover before Friday evening's final.

The question now is whether Suhr, who won a silver medal in Beijing in 2008, will be able to defend her title. She has battled back from numerous injuries over the years.

Suhr is one of three American women in the field, along with Sandi Morris and Alexis Weeks.

Two months ago, during a press conference at the Suhrs' training facility in Churchville, she revealed that she had hurt her calf and Achilles in March. At the time, she said she was 80 percent healed and would be fine for the Games. She said she was excited for the opportunity to medal for a third time.

"I am," she said that day in June. "The last couple of years, it seems like I’ve been fighting back. I’m getting back to where I feel like myself again.”

Suhr, 34, has battled celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that is caused by gluten. She found she had the disease five years ago after finishing second in the 2011 U.S. outdoors, which ended her streak of 10 straight national titles. She made the dietary adjustments necessary and returned to top form.

She is the top female pole vaulter in U.S. history. Jenn has won 16 national titles, the most of any active American track and field performer. She holds the world indoor record of 5.03 meters (16 feet, 6 inches) and was No. 1 in the world in 2014 and '15. Suhr holds the U.S. indoor and outdoor records.

Last February, Suhr was a unanimous choice as the No. 1 female athlete from the Buffalo area in The Buffalo News. She has some stiff competition in Rio, including her U.S. teammate Morris, who has the top outdoor time in the world this season at 4.93 meters. Cuba's Yarisley Silva, who was second in London, is in the field. So is Rio native Fabiana Murer, the former world No. 1, who will be a huge crowd favorite.

"I always look at it that everybody on the start list has a chance to win," Suhr said in June. "It's an event you have to go out and perform. I've never overlooked any of my competitors. I try to go out and do my best on that day."

The women's pole vault final is scheduled to begin on Friday at 8:10 Brazil time. The big question now is whether the defending gold medalist will be there.

Olympic pole vaulter Suhr overcomes trials and tribulations

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