Project runway: Olympian Morris builds own pole vault setup

Pat Graham

AP – Sandi Morris set the bar high with her latest do-it-yourself project.

Soon, she will be clearing it, too.

The United States (US) Olympic pole vault silver medallist didn’t have a place to practise and plenty of down time due to the coronavirus pandemic. So she and her father constructed their own pole-vault setup near Greenville, South Carolina.

Built out of plywood, the 120-foot runway is situated between a soccer field and a tennis court on neighbourhood land two blocks from her parents’ place. Their pole vault project could be operational as soon as this weekend (they just need the landing mat to arrive).

Viewing is definitely encouraged – from windows for now (social distancing and all).

US pole vault hopeful Sandi Morris runs on a vaulting pit she is building; and Morris works on vaulting pit with her father Harry in Piedmont, South Carolina. PHOTOS: AP

“There are tonnes of houses that can see the field from their windows,” said the 27-year-old Morris, who usually trains in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but travelled home to start the project with the Tokyo Games postponed to next summer and no foreseeable competitions. “So I’m being literal when I say they’re going to watch me from their windows. It will be fun.”

This project has been in the back of their mind for ages. Morris would always venture home and wouldn’t be able to stay long because she had to return to practice.

Now, her coach can simply send along a workout.

“This virus kind of pushed us to do something that we’ve always wanted to do,” said Morris, who finished second to Katerina Stefanidi of Greece at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The entire endeavour took about three weeks and cost around USD4,000 (not counting the landing mat, which usually runs around USD30,000 but was loaned to her). There’s a rubber surface covering the runway for better traction, too. No concrete was used so it can be moved (although, not easily).

Each day, the routine went something like this: Sandi would train in the morning while her father, Harry, worked from home as a geologist. When their day jobs were complete, they headed to the field – about two blocks out their front door – to finish the pole-vault project (friends volunteered their time, too, on property the owner gave a green light to use). The father and daughter would be down there until nearly dark. Most times, she would head home first with her dad saying he would be along shortly.

“An hour later, he then comes home. My mom’s like, ‘Where were you?’ And he’s like, and this is always the answer, ‘Oh, I was just tinkering,’” explained Morris, who’s earned the silver medal at the last two world outdoor championships. “This project brings him a lot of joy – and that brings me a lot of joy.”

The blueprint was provided by Scott Kendricks, the father of two-time world pole vaulting champion Sam Kendricks. The Kendricks family built a similar setup years ago in Mississippi.