Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks took bronze in the men’s pole vault in the XXXI Olympic Games in Rio de Janerio, Brazil on Aug. 15 with a successful vault of 5.85 meters, about 19.2 feet.
Kendricks took the top spot in Olympic qualifications as the first competitor to hit 5.7 meters, about 18.7 feet. But all top nine jumpers hit 5.7 meters in the qualifications, including Kendricks’ top rivals, Renauld Lavillenie from France and Shawnacy Barber of Canada.
Lavillenie is the world record holder and took home the gold in the London Olympics in 2012 while Barber was ranked second worldwide.
Kendricks just missed his first attempt at 5.65 meters and his only one at 5.75. He hit his second attempt at 5.65 and then crossed 5.85, making his 5.75-meter struggles immaterial. Barber failed three times to clear 5.65, which knocked him out of the competition.
Lavillenie, the 2012 Olympic champion and holder of the world pole vault record since 2014, entered the competition at 5.75 meters and cleared the bar easily, putting the pressure back on Kendricks.
Kendricks fought his way to 3rd with an impressive series of jumps, but he failed to beat the 5.93-meter bar to stay in the running for gold. Kendricks personal best is 5.92 meters.
Rio’s hometown hero, Brazilian pole vaulter Thiago Braz da Silva, traded Olympic records with Lavillenie. When the dust settled, Silva was on top with a 6.03-meter jump, about 19.78 feet, for the gold while Lavillenie left at 5.98 meters for silver.
Kendricks made it to the podium partially in thanks to the assistance of his coach and father, Scott Kendricks, a 10-year veteran of the Marine Corps.
Another military pole vaulter, Air Force 1st Lt. Cale Simmons, was knocked out during the qualifiers after a disappointing 5.30-meter jump, not good enough for a berth in the Olympic finals.