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Olympic pole vaulter Sam Kendricks reflects on Olympic experience, bronze medal win

A week ago, Sam Kendricks was living out his dream of competing in the Olympics. The Oxford native made local history as the first current or former Oxford High School athlete to become an Olympian as well as the first to win a medal.

Kendricks claimed bronze with a jump of 5.85 meters, failing to set a new personal best of 5.93 during his three attempts inside the Olympic Stadium at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was expected to find the podium according to friends, family and even prognosticators around the world.

Winding up third best in the world was not a disappointment to the 23-year-old who was competing in his first Olympics.

“Everybody sets their own (Olympic) expectations, but some people don’t know the limit to which they need to set them in order to be satisfied with what they do,” Kendricks said. “If you go to the Olympics, what do people want to talk about? They want to talk about the gold medal. … That’s not the way I thought about the Olympics. My expectation was to go and be competitive. My goal was to medal. I was very happy with my bronze-medal performance.”

Helpful wait
Before Kendricks could even make his first jump, a rain storm moved into the Rio area and caused an hour-long weather delay that forced all the vaulters back under cover inside the stadium.

After going through warmups and even introductions to the crowd, Kendricks and the others had to wait the storm out. The ground surface was not completely dry as it had been two days prior during the qualifying round. The conditions proved to be a disadvantage to some and an advantage to others like Kendricks as well as gold and silver medalists Thiago Braz da Silva from Brazil and Renaud Villineau of France, respectively.

“(The delay) favors two types of people,” Kendricks said. “It favors those that are, A, experienced and, B, are at home. The three people that medaled were the most experienced or they were at home. Thiago was at home. He knows what it’s like to jump in Rio, and he had the backing of the entire place. Renaud is one of the most experienced jumpers on the circuit, and I think I’m coming into position where I am one of the most experienced jumpers on the circuit. When it started raining and the equipment started failing, I knew it started favoring me more and more.”

Kendricks has plans to represent Oxford and the United States once again in four years when Tokyo, Japan hosts the 2020 Summer Games.

The competitions do not end for Kendricks now that the Olympics have come and gone.

He came back home to Oxford on Friday and flew back out on Sunday for seven more events he has planned between now and October. Kendricks will then hang up his cleats and put on his uniform as the U.S. Army Reserve second lieutenant and will report to Fort Lee in Virginia for 14 weeks of training.