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Olympic pole vaulter Jenn Suhr finds her passion – and gets results

Jenn Suhr took a step back after the 2017 season.

She lost faith in track and field, was upset about doping violations and corruption, and wanted to get away from it all.

So she and her coach and husband, Rick, spent time away from her Western New York roots and more time in east Texas, where they trained young pole vaulters. Suhr returned revitalized in 2018, and the results have reflective a turnaround and new mental approach.

"It isn't one thing that breaks you, it's multiple things," Suhr said. "Since Rio, there have been multiple things that have happened and it affected me. I had to really find what I wanted – what was it that I found passion in, and I couldn't do it outside of track. I had to find it within myself."

Suhr, the three-time Olympian and 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Fredonia, vaulted a personal-best 4.93 meters at the Austin Invitational in April. It was the best outdoor mark in the world this year. She followed up that performance two weeks later with a second-place finish at the Drake Relays. The highlight of her season came at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon in May, when she broke the meet record with a vault of 4.85 meters.

After a third-place performance at the USA Track and Field National Championships last month, Suhr has branched out. On Thursday, she finished second at the Athletissima in Lausanne, Switzerland, the first time in four years that she has competed at a Diamond League series event in Europe. Other than the Olympics and World Championships, Suhr has competed exclusively in North America since September 2014.

Suhr finished behind 2016 Olympic gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece. Suhr, Stefanidi and Anzhelika Sidorova were unable to clear 4.88 meters. Stefanidi won based on the performance at previous heights, as she was able to clear 4.72 meters on the first try while it took Suhr two attempts.

"I am happy that I was able to jump 15' 10 in my European debut," Suhr said. "It’s been nearly 4 years since I have been to a European Diamond League so to come to perform overseas and jump against the best in the world and take second was encouraging. I have been off technically and today I didn’t feel my best. I have some more meets and I am going to continue to correct my mistakes. I enjoyed the meet very much and am looking forward to the rest of the season."

It was the first time since 2006 that the women's pole vault was contested at this meet.

Suhr, who turned 36 in February, had a difficult 2017 season, despite a promising start. She did not win in an indoor or national title after winning 10 of the previous 11 outdoor titles. Her 17 national titles are the most among active track and field athletes.

That followed a nightmare at the 2016 Olympics when she caught a nasty respiratory infection and was coughing up blood on the day of the competition and threw up during the event. She ended up placing seventh.

“In 2016 after Rio, I really took some time and thought that last year was going to be my last year," she said at the news conference. "I was done, I wasn't going to compete anymore. I was going to walk away from the sport.”

Suhr said she is looking at competition differently now, and that’s aided her success.

“It's a different mindset and it's not as intense,” she said. “It's not as draining. To be back here (at Lausanne), I walked around the other day, I enjoyed myself and I hadn't done that in years.

“So I think it's a different approach than I'm going to be been taking for the rest of my career. And that could be this year, that could be next year. I'm not sure, but it's not going to be like it has been in the past and so far I've been enjoying it and I think that's why the results have been what they've been and I'm actually like what I'm doing."

Jerry Sullivan: Jenn Suhr is still raising the bar at age 35

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