The coronavirus has placed the sports world on hold. In an unprecedented move, athletic matchups ranging from little league to the highest level of professional sports were cancelled or postponed. With sports fans in withdrawal, many athletes are finding themselves waiting for the next opportunity to compete. Mississippi native and professional pole vaulter, Sam Kendricks, is one of those now in holding.
A large emphasis has been placed on the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics. They are a well-known contest that for many athletes occurs only once in a career. Kendricks, who won bronze in the 2016 games, was a solid contender again this year. However, it was not the only event for which he was preparing. The Summer Olympics is only one of three major competitions by which track and field athletes are judged. The other two, the Pro Tour, which occurs each year and the World Championships which occur every two years, are also very important events in the sport.
Kendricks is riding what the Oxford Eagle touted as “the best season in American men’s pole vault history.” Last July, he set the U.S. Outdoor Record at 19 feet, 10.50 inches to win his sixth consecutive national title. He then won the World Championships at Doha, Qatar in October making him one of only two men to have ever won the title a second time. In February, the three-time USA Indoor Champion eclipsed the U.S. indoor record at 19-08.50 and set his sights on the World Athletics Indoor Championships slated to take place in March.
However on January 29th, the trajectory of his season began to change with the news that preparations for the contest were on hold.
“The first sign that things were changing this year was when the Indoor World Championship in China was postponed,” Kendricks said.
As many athletes turned their full attention to the Olympics, Kendricks continued to compete during the indoor season. He participated in meets across Europe until sanctions and lockdowns began forcing him back to Mississippi. Upon his return, the Oxford High School graduate began to hear rumblings that the Olympic games may be canceled. In late March, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe jointly announced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to July 2021.
Kendricks sees the delay as a positive because it was not a cancellation, but a postponement. One he believes will heighten the interest and excitement in the games.
“Imagine that all sports in the world are cancelled for eight months, which they have been, and everyone who loves sports is looking for something to watch. Now imagine that one of the world’s greatest sporting competitions is postponed to next year. It is going to be the most touted Olympics in history because it is going to be the Olympics where the whole world had to come together and change how we do things in pursuit of even more unification. (It will be) the fifth year Olympics.”
The former two-time NCAA champion is concerned about the impact that the cancellations and postponements could have on young athletes. This year’s Olympic hopefuls will have the opportunity next year, but face considerable challenges. Graduation looms for many athletes with the gates closed on 2020 collegiate seasons. Most training facilities are shuttered making it harder to properly train or even stay in shape. Add to that, an upcoming generation of athletes that will be added to the field next year.
“Young athletes are looking for that chance and they just are going to get it this year and they may not get the chance again because it’s so hard to get that momentum going again,” said Kendricks.
The transition has been a bit easier for Kendricks. He continues to train at his personal world class training facility. The resource, designed by him and his father/coach Scott Kendricks, is located in Oxford on the site of his father’s horse training farm. Social distancing guidelines and closures have separated him from some of the medical practitioners he uses to augment his training, but the U.S. Army Reserve XO says he is comfortable in his ability to stay healthy and care for his body.
Being in his hometown during this time has been beneficial for the Ole Miss alum. With the rapidly changing events and the need to continue training and preparing, Kendricks has been able to lean on the city as he has always done. From the mayor’s office to the local coffee shop owner, nearly everyone has been willing to offer whatever they can to their hometown champion.
“I’ve had to call for a lot of help. The Oxford community has really helped me, not just now, but in the past. (Those) relationships that I have (have) really advantaged me in such a time.”
With the championships and Olympics now postponed, Kendricks is eyeing this year’s upcoming outdoor season. Whatever it may be.