This Website use Cookies OK

Read more Sports News

Olympian Sandi Morris builds own pole vault pit to continue training during coronavirus shutdown, will host meet


Sandi Morris is admittedly desperate.

Four months ago, her pole vault competitions, both big (Olympics) and small (street meets), came to a grinding halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 2016 Olympic silver medalist became, through ingenuity and opportunity, one of the few still able to train when courses were shut down. Morris and her father, a geologist, collaborated to build a standard pole vault course near their home in South Carolina. It required about four weeks, meticulous measuring and $2,000 worth of lumber.

But it didn’t quite scratch Morris’ itch, or promote her sport in this vast void left by the postponement of the Olympics.

So Morris, 28, decided to host her own meet. It’s sanctioned by U.S. Track & Field, it will include a masked/socially-distancing crowd, it will air July 16 on ESPN’s Youtube channel and have a sponsor in the sunglasses company Zenni.

“People are going to look at this and say, wow, they’re desperate to compete if they’re willing to do all this. And my answer is yes, yes we are,” Morris told the Daily News. “We are desperate for opportunities. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help our sport survive through this pandemic. Let’s be honest here, track and field normally takes a backseat, especially in America, so right now the market is finally not saturated. So now is the time for track events – we need to recognize this opportunity.”

A one-day competition on a soccer field won’t suddenly catapult pole vaulting into the mainstream, or replace the Olympics in terms of excitement and attention.

But Morris, who was a favorite for gold in Tokyo, understands why the Olympics were postponed until at least next year. She agrees it was necessary for two reasons: 1) the obvious safety concerns as the coronavirus “isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” and 2) the opportunity for athletes to cheat.

“Anti-doping,” Morris said. “There was a period when people weren’t being drug tested not nearly as much as we normally would be during this time of year. So that gave a big window of opportunity, shall I say, to athletes who are dopers.”

Morris said she’d typically be tested twice a month during the season, but recently went about 2 ½ months without a screening due to the coronavirus restrictions.

“I’m thinking about all the athletes around the world in remote locations who probably used this to their advantage,” she said. “And we don’t know who used it to their advantage. So, yeah, that’s another big concern. I feel like that hasn’t been in the forefront of the public’s eye is the concerns of doping during the pandemic. So that’s another reason why it was a very good decision to move the Olympics.”

Morris’ meet in Greensville, S.C., which also features top-ranked Canadian Alysha Newman, will be optically awkward. In order to secure the insurance necessary to a USATF-sanctioned event, each vaulter will have their personal tarp to cover the pit. That tarp will be changed after each jump for sanitary reasons.

The crowd was a major concern for Morris as South Carolina is slammed with coronavirus cases, with Greenville becoming the first city in the state with 100 deaths related to COVID-19. Since the course was built on a private field belonging to a gated community, Morris couldn’t legally keep the residents away. So she invited up to 160 of them under the requirements of masks, social distancing of 12 feet and temperature checks.

“Comfortable is definitely the incorrect word for me. I’m pretty uncomfortable with it,” Morris said. “But I feel like it’s the right decision logically because of the unique scenario, the unique situation we’re dealing with that this is private property.”

Like the rest of us, Olympians have to adapt and survive in a pandemic. Morris’ answer is to create her own venue and competition.