Sandi Morris: In Pursuit of The Beast

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sandi m.jpgSandi Morris speaking via zoom presser, special thanks to Mike Deering / The Shoe Addicts

IMG_3185.jpgSandi Morris, ATL #2, photo via ESPN by Kathy Camara

This is David Hunter's second feature in this month. He has focused on Sand Morris, the American pole vaulter. A multi-faceted athlete, Sandi and David spoke about the pole vault, her plans and her goals. We think that you will enjoy this one, as you have with David's other columns.

Sandi Morris: In Pursuit of The Beast

February 21st, 2021

There is an enduring expression that goes something like this: "If you want something done, ask a busy person." That saying may be a tad simplistic. Better stated: If that busy person is also talented and inspired, then you may well get that something done. World class pole vaulter Sandi Morris - with a bushel of global medals, her eye on the world vault record, yet frequently finds the time and the desire to embrace other intriguing ventures - just might be that person you need to ask.

IMG_3466.jpgSandi Morris, ATL Meet, photo via ESPN by Kathy Camara

Paul Doyle, Morris' manager and visionary founder of the American Track League, knew that Sandi was the right person to ask when he recently faced an unexpected announcing vacancy just a day or two before the first televised edition of his new track & field League. "Paul was in kind of in a last-minute scramble," explains Morris, the current world leader in the women's vault. "The guy who was going to help Lewis Johnson kind of fell through. So Paul asked me two days before the meet if I could join Lewis and do it. I didn't exactly have that much time to prepare. But I decided that when you get an opportunity like this I definitely had to say 'yes' to it." Morris, whose prior experience as a color analyst took place during the '17 London World Championships offering commentary during the men's pole vault final, was unflappable. In the first event of the day, the men's shot put, Ryan Crouser unleashed a monster opening round throw. Almost immediately after the opening credits, the reigning Olympic shot put gold medalist's gigantic heave [22.82m / 74'10½"] took down a 32-year old indoor world record [Randy Barnes / 22.66m / 74'4¼" / 1989] Barely getting seated, Morris stayed cool and coordinated with Johnson like a seasoned broadcaster. "That was quite the experience," reflects Sandi on Crouser's WR. With Doyle's spacious broadcast format, the fledgling broadcaster shined and during vault segments provided competitor stats and offered detailed insights on the successful mechanics of well-coordinated vaults. "I did as much research as I could in the 48 hours leading up to the event," reflects the American record holder in the outdoor vault. "I joined Lewis and he guided me through the whole thing."

In 2019, another opportunity knocked on Sandi's door: a chance to engage in a musical collaboration with the Swiss pop band Baba Shrimps and 200 meter super star Noah Lyles. "It was one of those incredible experiences - an opportunity that wouldn't have come about if I wasn't successful in track and field. I've always had a passion for music: playing violin; I taught myself to play guitar; and I have a pretty good voice that I have inherited from my parents; and just a knack for music. When this opportunity came about, the Weltklasse leader Andreas Cunei was looking for athletes to join Baba Shrimps to record a song in Zurich for the Diamond League finale." Opportunity only had to knock once. "When they asked me, it was another thing where I said, 'Heck, yeah!' just in the minute they asked me." Whirlwind preparation ensued. "BaBa Shrimps had been working on the main parts of the song. Noah wrote his lines. BaBa Shrimps and I had been emailing back and forth on what my lines would be. Then we flew in for one day of recording." Once assembled, the song, which weaves a story about keeping valuable memories like a souvenir and the ability to call them up in important moments, features vocal performances by Morris and Lyles and was performed live in Zurich's Letzigrund Stadium at the conclusion of the Diamond League finale. "You'd never think you could combine (Noah's rapping) with a Swiss pop band and me, a singer / songwriter and put all that together. The tract came out pretty amazing." 'Souvenir' was ultimately named a Xaver Silver Award winner, the top annual Swiss prize for excellence in live communication.

But Sandy Morris' major focus - her "current one thing" as she calls it - remains, of course, the pole vault. Over the past decade, the 28-year-old Puma athlete has compiled a most impressive record, with marks and honors that place her among the best vaulters of all time. Sandi is the reigning Olympic pole vault silver medalist - with only a slight tick of the bar at 16'¾" on the final attempt of the competition denying her the top step on the Rio podium. The former University of Arkansas star has captured four medals in World Championship competition: silver medals in the '17 and '19 outdoor competitions, a silver medal in the '16 indoor gathering, and a gold medal in the '18 indoor championships. Internationally, the South Carolina native has garnered seven pole vault victories in Diamond League competition. And Morris has dominated her event domestically, having won seven USATF pole vault titles: 3 outdoor crowns and the last 4 consecutive indoor championships. Since 2016, Morris has flirted with the pole vault world records (indoors: Jen Suhr / 5.03m / 16'6"; outdoors Yelena Isinbayeva 5.06 / 16'7¼) with a successful indoor clearance at 4.95m (16'2¾" / #3 on the all-time world list) and a clean outdoor jump at 5.00m (16'4¾" / #2 on the all-time world list).

Like all, Sandy Morris has had to deal with the delays and changes brought on by the relentless pandemic. One virus byproduct has included a mild case of the COVID-19 virus at the beginning of the year which hit both Sandi and her husband, Tyrone Smith, a 3-time Olympian and the Bermudan national record-holder in the long jump. "Fortunately, it didn't hit us very hard," she explains. "Tyrone had a light fever for about 3 days. Mine presented as basically a cold." But the unplanned 2-week quarantine and training embargo that followed set both of them off their schedules. Married for just over a year, Sandi and Tyrone hope that together they can be Olympians once again. "We really want to both be at the Tokyo Olympics together. How special that would be?" asks Sandi rhetorically. "The Rio Olympics were where we fell in love with each other. [For us both to be married Olympic performers in Tokyo] would be a fairy tale Olympic love story."

Neither the virus nor the subsequent quarantine was able to throw Sandi Morris off her stride. After competing in two ATL gatherings and in the New Balance Grand Prix, Sandi Morris as of this writing remains undefeated during this indoor season and is the world leader with a clearance of 4.88m / 16'0". Among other things, Morris is using this indoor season to get comfortable competing with longer poles - a tricky process which Morris believes, if properly incorporated into her jump routine, will allow her to clear new heights in her quest for the elusive world record. Relatedly, the multiple-time global medalist is also working on refining her approach and takeoff, seeking to redirect her speedy run-up into a more upward takeoff and allowing her to gain more height. "I need to learn how to get more energy jumping up," explains Morris. "I'm very fast on the runway. And all of my energy tends to just run into the pole and too much energy is going forward. Learning how to jump up more helps me jump on to the pole instead of running into the pole.

sandi mo.jpg

Sandi Morris, photo via twitter

Sandi Morris is candid about two remaining vault goals she has targeted. "I've got an Olympic silver medal. So it would be nice to concentrate on that. I don't have that Olympic gold medal," laughs Morris coyly. With successful clearances tantalizingly close to the global bests both indoors and out, Morris is earnest in her quest to eke out those remaining centimeters necessary to capture the pole vault world record - be it indoor, outdoor, or both. "I've been chasing the world record this last four years," says Sandi, citing the magnificent 5.00m outdoor clearance she had in the 2016 Brussels DL championships. "I haven't PR'd in 4 years," she laments. "So it's really been over the last year I have had kind of a reconciling with myself: 'OK, what do I need to do?' I feel like I've known what I need to do - to jump higher. But it's a different story to make it happen and get your body to do those technical things. So that's continually what I'm working on: how to jump higher; how to fix my technique; how to grip higher; and how to get stronger. Because I really, really believe I still have the physical ability to break the world record. It's a Beast. It's a different Beast to make it happen and to figure out how to jump higher." Smiling, she adds, "If we all knew how to jump higher, then the world record would be a lot higher than it is."

IMG_1823.jpg

Sandi Morris, 2017 World Champs, London, photo by Mike Deeing / The Shoe Addicts

Having been a successful world-class vaulter for nearly a decade, the dominate American vaulter last year compiling a blemish-free 8-0 season, earned a "Gold" [#1] ranking on Track & Field News' 2020 World Podium listings, and was accorded honorable mention status on T&FN's award for USA's 2020 MVP. By staying fit and with a little luck, Morris could likely compete on the highest vault level for yet another near decade. But what is her next pursuit after she puts her poles away? "It's a tough question," she admits. "I've always been that person that has been interested in and pretty good at so many things. It can be difficult to hone in my energy to pick one thing." She knows she has time to solve the puzzle. "I need to figure out what is that next one thing. The pole vault has been that one thing for me over the last 10 years of my life. But what's going to be that next one thing I can do as a career?" The choices are many. "I have a degree in broadcast journalism. I could very well go into that. But I also have a lot of other passions. And I am pretty sure my husband, on the cusp of earning an MBA, and I will want to start a family. It's a question I don't have the answer to." Pausing briefly she adds, "But I have a lot of ideas." In the meantime, Sandi Morris intends to address some unfinished business on the runway. / Dave Hunter /

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