UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Athletes fight for momentum and position as 2012 Games approach

Athletes in each Olympic sport around the world are vying for position and momentum before this summer's Olympics in London. Here are three U.S. athletes who advanced their causes with strong performances in the past week.

The reigning Olympic silver medalist in the pole vault broke her own U.S. indoor record by scaling 16 feet at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston. Suhr's mark is the best in the world so far this indoor season and should set her up well for the coming year. Suhr, 30, has won a total of ten national titles (indoors and outdoors), and now holds the U.S. record both indoors and outdoors (16-1 ¾). Last year, she was diagnosed with celiac disease, which caused her to suffer from excessive fatigue, and she finished fourth at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Now she has the disease under control, and she just files it on a long list of unique twist and turns in her career.

Suhr's early athletic exploits were not limited to the pole vault. As Jenn Stuczynski, her maiden name, she averaged better than 24 points per games during her days as an NCCAA hoops star at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, where she also set school records in the high jump, 100 and 400-meter hurdles and the javelin.

She was introduced to pole vaulting in 2004 by an innovative coach named Rick Suhr, who is now her husband. He had built a 4000-square foot training site in Rochester by putting together two Quonset huts that created enough space for a 120-foot-long vault runway. His protégée would run in track spikes during the winter as a defense against the water that would freeze after seeping into the runway. She would practice in heavy sweats and then sit next to a propane blower in between vaults.

Eric Uptagrafft scored a nearly perfect 1198 out of 1200 last weekend to win the Rocky Mountain Rifle Championships in Colorado Springs. The Sergeant First Class of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit has already qualified for the London Olympics, which will mark his second appearance at the Games. He finished 30th in 1996, his only previous showing, and has since endured three near misses at making the team again.

Uptagrafft, who will turn 46 next week, has been a competitive shooter for 35 years, competing around his duties in the U.S. Army. In 2007, he shot a 599/600 at a World Cup event in Munich, while he was on leave from deployment in Kuwait. He was named the male athlete of the year in 2011 by USA Shooting, even though he was deployed in Afghanistan for part of it. He won the silver medal at the ISSF World Cup final in Wroclaw, Poland after his return from service.

The soldier was an aerospace engineer at West Virginia, and his background has given him such a scientific approach to his sport, he has designed his own guns. He is among a handful of U.S. athletes to shoot a perfect 600 match point score in the 50-meter rifle prone event; he did so in 2005 at the U.S. Army Marksmanship unit Fort Benning, Ga. where he is still stationed with his wife, Sandra, a pistol shooter on the U.S. national team.

Sanders was named the outstanding wrestler at the Dave Schultz Memorial in Colorado Springs last week. Competing at 66 kg (145.5 pounds), Sanders, 21, scored a dazzling reverse lift, sending Italy's Tiziano Corriga to his back for a quick fall at 1:46 of the first round to secure the victory. It has been a steady trajectory for Sanders, the three-time national junior champion from South Dade, Florida who was known for his explosive and dynamic throws as a school-aged phenom.

Yet pre-match ritual is also distinctive. Before each competition, he bows his head and talks quietly to his late mother, Katherine, who died of complications from lupus at age 29, when Sanders was just 11. His mother's passing hit Sanders so hard, he briefly stopped speaking. He credits his grandmother, Barbara Riley, for raising him with drive and purpose. Now Sanders, in his second year at the United States Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University, is making a strong bid for the Olympics. He suffered a concussion earlier this season at the U.S. Open qualifier, but has since regained form, and having dropped down in weight from 74 kg, now appears to be scrapping at a class better suited for his skills.

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.