Army reserve, pole vaulter Sam Kendricks favorite in final
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Meet Sam Kendricks, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He also just so happens to be one of the world's top pole vaulters this season.
Only fitting, the final of his event at the U.S. Track and Field Trials falls on such a patriotic day, the Fourth of July.
He's certainly the vaulter to beat, which is quite a contrast to four years ago when he was in the stands and watching the competition.
As for balancing his duties to his country with his pole vaulting career, Kendricks said it's not all that difficult. He's currently in the reserves, but checks in all the time with his commanders.
''They all give me space and time to do this so I can reach my highest level and lift the Army along with me,'' Kendricks said. ''I still wanted to give my dedication to my nation and so I continued as a reservist.
''I love to serve my country.''
Here's how his military and his pole vaulting careers started: Kendricks walked on to the University of Mississippi track team as a freshman and joined the ROTC program to help with college tuition. He fully planned to serve when he was done, but became so good at the event - winning 2013 and `14 NCAA championships - that he combined his two passions.
He's only soared from there, capturing a silver medal at world indoors in March up the road in Portland. His best jump this season was 19 feet, 5 inches (5.92 meters) in May. It's second only to reigning Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie of France.
The 23-year-old Kendricks easily earned his way into the final with a rather smooth performance during Saturday's qualifying.
''It was a fun day out there. It's a rare occasion that we can get all the guys together because I consider pole vault at this stage to be like a traveling circus, because we all go around the country to the same meets trying to find the best conditions to get into this meet,'' Kendricks said. ''Everybody just went out there and had fun.''
At meets, Kendricks is frequently thanked for his service by fellow military personnel.
No, he always responds, a big thanks to them.
''I know there are other (people) out there putting their lives on the line,'' Kendricks said. ''I applaud them for their service and thank them very much.''
Here are other events going on Monday at trials:
REST AND RECOVERED: Galen Rupp kicks off his pursuit of qualifying in a third event, the 5,000, with a first-round heat. Rupp already has a spot to Rio in the 10,000 and the marathon. Should he make the team in the 5K, his plan would be to run the 10K and choose between the marathon and 5K.
DON'T TREAD ON HIM: 800-meter runner Boris Berian made headlines when Nike recently filed a lawsuit against him for breach of contract. The suit was dropped just before trials. Now wearing New Balance, Berian, who once flipped burgers at McDonald's to earn extra cash for training, will chase after the title and a spot on the Olympic team. It's a field that doesn't include Nick Symmonds (ankle injury) or NCAA champion Donavan Brazier (failed to qualify).
TWO-LAP PURSUIT: Brenda Martinez, who trains with Berian at Big Bear Track Club in California, had the fastest time in the semifinal round. She and Alysia Montano, who's known for wearing a plastic flower in her hair, will be the favorites in the final. Martinez earned a bronze medal at the 2013 world championships in Moscow.
LONG TOSS: Riley Dolezal, a middle-school teacher, had the top throw in javelin qualifying in advance of Monday's final. To bankroll his Olympic aspirations, Dolezal started a Go Fund Me account, which has raised more than $2,300 so far. Sean Furey and Cyrus Hostetler are in the field. They both made the 2012 Olympic team.
STEEPLECHASE: Evan Jager is the unquestioned leader of the pack as qualifying begins in the 3,000 steeplechase. He's the American record holder in the event.