U.S. pole vaulter Jenn Suhr had a long-awaited breakthrough Monday evening, when she won the gold medal in her event at the London Olympics, clearing the bar at 15'7. She defeated a field that included two-time gold medalist Elena Isinbaeva of Russia, who has dominated women's pole vaulting in recent years.
Suhr, 30, won the silver medal in the event at the Beijing 2008 Games. In London's Olympic Stadium Monday, the vaulters were challenged by windy conditions that kept them well below world-record heights — and even had them clutching blankets to stay warm between attempts.
In Monday's final round of vaults, Suhr battled with Isinbaeva and Cuba's Yarisley Silva. With Isinbaeva bothered by a nagging injury and Silva missing a crucial early vault, Suhr's sights settled on the gold medal — and she seized it.
Here's how Isinbaeva described the final moments, as NPR's Tom Goldman reported: "The conditions were terrible. I didn't want to jump anymore. Jenn wasn't like that. She was like, 'Grrrr!' She deserved to win."
On her Facebook page, Suhr described the victory:
"It's very emotional. It's something that you work so hard for, for four years, and heartbreak and joy, and then some more heartbreak. To overcome it and come out on top is something that whenever I thought of I started crying, so I knew it was just going to be emotional, whenever I thought about how it would feel to win gold. Then I would think of how it would feel to be fourth, and I'd cry over that too."
As NPR reported back in April, Suhr trains in a unique setting: an airplane hangar next to the house she and her husband and coach, Rick Suhr, share in Rochester, N.Y.
"As you can see, in this building it's getting pretty tight," Rick Suhr told Zack Seward of WXXI of the structure they adapted for Jenn's training. "In fact, she's come so close to hitting that ceiling, I don't know how she hasn't hit it yet."
A former basketball star, Jenn Suhr first started pole-vaulting at 22. Back then, she says, "I was afraid of it. I thought those people were crazy. Like, 'Who would ever want to do that?'"
"I think the exhilaration and the fun comes after you make the bar and you're falling," she told Seward. "That's the best part — a few seconds to celebrate and relax."
That moment should last for more than a few seconds this time. With the gold medal in hand, Suhr won't have to spend four years wondering how she stacks up against the world's best.
As The Boston Globe reports, after her London triumph, Suhr shared her golden moment with her husband and coach, but the glory was all hers. And The New York Times has done a frame-by-frame breakdown of Suhr's winning vault.