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Suhr brings home Olympic pole vault gold for US

By Eddie Pells

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 6 2012 4:28 p.m. MDT

United States' Jennifer Suhr celebrates winning gold in the women's pole vault final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.

Matt Dunham, Associated Press

LONDON — Jenn Suhr walked with a purpose over to the stands to see her husband, who gingerly wrapped an American flag around her shoulders while she sobbed into his chest.

Yes, they've come a long way together. From training in a pair of huts connected together to form a jumping pit — to winning an Olympic gold medal on her sport's grandest stage.

Suhr, who won the silver medal in Beijing and has since fought through an Achilles injury and a long, mysterious, sometimes-debilitating illness that turned out to be a gluten allergy, got the Olympic gold she needed to round out her resume.

"It's very emotional," she said. "It's something you work very hard for for four years. And heartbreak and joy and some more heartbreak. To overcome it and come out on top, is something that whenever I thought of, I started crying. I knew it was going to be emotional."

She vaulted 15 feet, 7 inches (4.75 meters) to defeat Cuba's Yarisley Silva, who cleared the same height but lost on a tiebreaker because she had one more miss in the competition.

Suhr also beat two-time defending Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia, who failed to become the first woman to win the same individual track and field event at three consecutive Olympics. Isinbayeva settled for bronze with a vault of 15-5 (4.70).

"To beat Yelena and her resume and her record, it's an honor," Suhr said. "That's the only thing I can say, to have someone so good in the field and come out on top, it really is an honor. It's a special title in that situation."

The Suhr victory, finished out in the spitting rain at Olympic Stadium after all the other events had concluded, was a surprise gold for the United States on a night when it couldn't catch a break anywhere else.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Angelo Taylor staggered to the finish in the men's 400-meter hurdles for fifth place in a race won by 35-year-old Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic. Sanchez finished in 47.63 to beat American Michael Tinsley to the line.

Defending champion LaShawn Merritt of the U.S. wasn't even in the 400-meter final after pulling up with a hurt hamstring in the semifinals the day before. With no other American men in that final, 19-year-old Kirani James gave Grenada its first-ever Olympic medal. He took the lead at the halfway point and ran hard to the finish line even though he hardly needed to — winning in 43.94 seconds.

It was the first time since the 1980 Moscow Games that someone other than an American won the men's 400.

"It's probably crazy at home right now," James said. "There's probably a road party right now in the streets. I don't think there are any words to describe the celebration right now."

James, the defending world champion, was widely dismissed as truly the best 400-meter runner in the world because his victory last year over Merritt came as the American was just getting back from a 21-month doping suspension. Merritt wasn't even in this race. James, however, has no need to apologize.

"It's a huge loss not having in him in the event," James said. "But you know, it is what it is. Hopefully he can recover from this injury fully and come back stronger."

Earlier on the track, Americans Lolo Jones and Dawn Harper, the defending Olympic champion, made it through the first round of 100-meter hurdles qualifying, along with world champion Sally Pearson of Australia.

In the women's 200, Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica provided the only bit of drama in preliminaries, barely making it into the top three to move on to Wednesday.

Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter, 100-meter gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and 400-meter winner Sanya Richards-Ross also made it through. Richards-Ross had the best time of the bunch at 22.48 seconds after a restless four or five hours of sleep the night before with her new gold medal.

"I just feel lighter and free and so I'm just going to go out there and give it my best and hopefully make it through the semifinals as well," she said.

While Richards-Ross was expected to win in the 400, Suhr wasn't really the favorite, not only because of Isinbayeva's presence, but because of all she's been through the last four years.

Some might say the real drama started at the Beijing Olympics, where television cameras caught her husband and coach, Rick Suhr, berating her minutes after her runner-up performance. At that time, few knew they were romantically involved. They married in January 2010.

This time — a much different scene at the end.

Rick Suhr discovered his future wife playing pickup basketball in 2004, saw a fantastic athlete there and turned her into a pole vaulter. They worked out in a pair of Quonset huts Rick pushed together at his home in western New York.

As time passed, Suhr kept expanding the practice facility upward — as his wife's jumps threatened to scrape the roof.

An investment well worth it.

"That's all I kept thinking," Suhr said. "We're doing this for more than one person. It's not just me."

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