Vaulters Rise to the Occasion and crowd loves them as World Championships open, by Elliott Denman


Suhr_Jenn-Worlds16.JPgJenn Suhr, photo by

The first day of the World Indoors was greeted by the Oregon sun for the presser, and then, an amazing night of pole vaulting! Here is Elliott Denman's observations on the first day of the World Indoor Champs!


You had to love this vault-fest:
Twenty-three vaulters from 12 nations. Some 7,000 syncopatingly, rhythmically-clapping fans packed into Oregon Convention Center. Flags everywhere. Non-stop, upbeat, high-velocity music for an aural backdrop. High-school pole vaulters, seated around the outer lanes of the track, screaming approval of the big show unfolding before their young eyes. Informative, encouraging, crowd-enticing announcing. Parallel runways, the 14 men and the nine women alternating expeditions into the Oregon atmosphere.
Sixty total clearances, many of them rousing, up-up-and-away journeys over a bar far closer to the Convention Center ceiling (27 feet) than ground zero. Many of the 95 total misses over the course of three-plus hour show the closest of scrapes, the vaulter getting up and over the height, but the bar nudged off its pegs by some bodily appendage on the way down.
What a great, enlightened way to showcase these spectacular, all-guts, all-glory and usually - but not this night - underappreciated athletes and get the 16th edition of the IAAF's World Indoor Championships off to one heck of a start.
The sprinters, hurdlers, runners, jumpers, thowers, et al, take over the Convention Center spotlight the next three days and should deliver a sensational show. But the vaulters gave the World Championships a very fine jump start.
Lavillenie_RenaudR-Worlds16.JPgRenaud Lavillenie, photo by
Even in track-mad state of Oregon, even with many of the planet's finest track people right here in their own backyard, it's hard get some major focus and build some trac(k)tion- pun intended - for the flagship sport of the Olympic Games.
As one Championships-going spectator put it yesterday, "most people around here are thinking about the Ducks and the Beavers (the Oregon and Oregon State men's basketball teams competing in the NCAA Tournament) but maybe we should pay some attention to these (track) people, too.
"Seeing them all here today, everybody had to recognize that these are some really amazing athletes."
Renaud Lavillenie and Jennifer "Jenn" Suhr especially.
Lavillenie waited over two hours before entering the men's contest with nine of the others already eliminated. He warmed up by flying 5.75 meters (18-10 ¼), waited out two more bars, and regained the lead by going 5.90 (19-4 ¼) and 6.02 (19-9, a meet record height) on easy first-attempt clearances.
"And that, fans, is why he is the world record-holder," prompted announcer Garry Hill after the no-problems 6.02.
Now the bar was set at 6.17 (20-3) and this, of course, really would have been an absolute world record, better than anything ever achieved indoors or outdoors. Lavillenie's own undercover 6.16 (20-2 ½ at Donetsk, Ukraine) had topped the charts since February 15, 2014.
But it wasn't to be. Switching poles, he never got up for the first one and was closer but still no luck on the second one, actually landing in the vault box, and waving to the crowd tosignal there'd been no damage.
Going back to his earlier pole, attempt number three went nowhere, either, and his day was done.
But the crowd loved it all from the start to finish.
"I was pretty good today and wish I was closer (to the world record) today," he acknowledged to his audience.
"This was intense competition. Everybody was great. Did I worry some of you (when he toppled into the vault box)? Sorry about that, but that's why we compete."
His bottom line: "It was very nice to be here."
Lavillenie, who'll be 30 in September, had won the 2012 World Indoor title at Istanbul in 2012
but sat out the 2014 meet, on the injured list. He's thus a relative vet of the vaulting game.
And it's perfectly clear that new guys are knocking at his door.
Twenty-three-year-olds Sam Kendricks (of Mississippi) and Piotr Lisek of Poland (who placed 2-3), for instance. The even-younger Shawanacy "Shawn" Barber of Canada and the University of Akron, the 2015 World Outdoor champion, did not have a great day at the office and wound up fourth. But remember that he won't be 22 until the 27th of May.
Another 29-year-old, Konstandinos Filippidis, the 2014 World Indoor titlist, settled for seventh this time around.
Just last weekend, at this same venue, Suhr did not have a super-great day at the office,at the USA Indoor National Championships, and Sandi Morris did to take the Nationals gold.
But with the World title on the line, the tables were turned and Suhr won it with a perfect slate of four successes, at 4.60 (15-1), 4.75 (15-7), 4.85 (15-11) and, finally, 4.90 (16-0 ¾).
The winning clearance was a meet record and good enough for Suhr to call it a day.
As she explained it, "I started the season healthy and want to finish it healthy."
Her world indoor record of 5.02 (16-5 ½) will now stay in the books at least through next winter.
She's the 2012 London Olympic champion - but had never won Indoor Worlds, placing second in 2008 at Valencia and equal fifth at Sopot, Poland, in 2014.
Morris settled for the silver medal this time around with a first-attempt clearance of 4.85, but two misses at 4.90 and a third at 4.95 (16- 2 ¾.)
The bronze went to ex-Stanford star Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece at 4.80.
Fabiana Murer of Brazil, the 2010 champion at Doha, wound up sixth.
Sitting this one out - focusing on the buildup to the Rio Olympic Games - was 2014 champion Yarisley Silva of Cuba.
But sitting this one out - for a far different reason, namely their nation's drug banishment- were all Russian athletes.
Does their absence diminish everything about these 16th Worlds?
Certainly does.
But is it justice being done?
Certainly, too.
When and where will we see the Russians return? Stay tuned on that one, as the administrators of this game, and the laboratories they rely on, deliver their findings.
At the pre-vault Opening Ceremonies, IAAF chieftain Sebastian Coe, the man who occupies the hottest of seats, told the gathered vaulters, "now is your time to shine."
He confidently hopes the next few days' biggest headlines focus on what actually happens here-and not on the news from the laboratories.
Oh, what a relief what would be.
"We welcome the world to our city, we are ready," said Mayor Charlie Hales.
Now, it's time to get on with the rest of the show.

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