March 16, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Surpassing the 16-foot mark has American pole vaulter Sandi Morris readjusting her goals.

She'd long been targeting the height threshold, but now she can check that off - along with a national indoor title.

The next step in her advancement? A world championship and even the world record. She'll get a shot at her new target on Thursday night, when the IAAF world indoor track and field championships open in Portland, Oregon, with the pole vault competition.

''I've been chasing 16 feet for a long time and the pole vault is a huge mental thing. And you get these numbers in your head and when the bar goes to that number you start getting more frantic,'' she said. ''I think I'm finally getting to the experience level where I can learn how to control that and how to trust it and know that I can do it.''

At last week's U.S. indoor championships, Morris made sure everyone in the Portland Convention Center knew what she'd accomplished when she beat Jenn Suhr - the indoor world record holder and reigning Olympic gold medalist - with a vault of 16 feet, 2 3/4 inches.

Morris, who was a standout at Arkansas who set a new NCAA outdoor record in the pole vault, surprised even herself with the result.

''At the beginning, I was kind of doubting myself because I was having a rough day, but it's incredible to turn it around like that,'' she said afterward.

Suhr finished second with a leap of 16-3/4. Just last month Suhr had broken her own world record in the indoor pole vault in her home state, clearing 16-6 at the Brockport Golden Eagle Multi and Invitational at SUNY Brockport. She missed her final two attempts on Saturday to finish second at 16-3/4.

Morris' victory didn't come easy. Not only was she battling her own doubt against the world-record holder, she missed her first two attempts at 15-7. She finally cleared on her third attempt, then missed at 15-11.

She passed twice, jumping to 16-3/4, which she cleared on her second attempt. She only had one shot at 16-2 3/4 - a height she'd never even made in practice.

Nailed it. Morris pumped her fists before she even landed and her yells echoed through the convention hall. She punctuated the feat with a backflip.

Suhr congratulated her with a big hug.

''Pole vaulters, we all respect each other,'' Morris said. ''We're just all out there trying to jump high. It's one of the most supportive events: We're competitive but we're also supportive of each other.''

Morris and Suhr both earned spots on the U.S. team that will compete at the worlds. Some 500 athletes from around the globe will be participating in the meet, which opens Thursday night with the men's and women's pole vault before getting under way in earnest on Friday.

There will be notable absences for at the meet. Sprinter Usain Bolt doesn't regularly compete indoors, and many of track's elite stars eschew the indoor season during Olympic years to prepare for outdoor competition.

No Russian team will come to Portland because of pending doping and corruption charges. The IAAF, the sport's governing body, is expected to decide in May whether Russia can compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

The list of absent Russian athletes includes outdoor world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, a two-time gold medalist. Isinbayeva has been working her way back to the sport after a long layoff because of the birth of her daughter. An apparent Achilles injury last month further slowed her comeback.

Also missing is defending indoor champion Yarisley Silva of Cuba, who withdrew after her fiance, high jumper Sergio Mestre, was hospitalized following a training accident.

Morris and Suhr will be in a field that is expected to include Brazil's Fabiana Murer, the 2010 world indoor champion, and Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece, who topped the 16-foot milestone at the Millrose Games last month.

Morris has set her sights on a world championship, and perhaps more.

''The goal is to jump five meters (16-foot-4) and take some shots at the world record,'' Morris said. ''That would be freaking awesome.''

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