Stacy Dragila and Jenn Suhr are forever linked by their dominance of women’s pole vaulting.
So on Friday at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, the pioneer trailblazer and the current world’s best were on the same Sacramento State track.
Suhr vaulted 15 feet, 1 inch to easily win her sixth national outdoor title to complement her six indoor national titles.
Dragila, the Auburn native who now helps coach the next generation of female pole vaulters, was on hand to observe and present the championship award to Suhr and second-place finisher Sandi Morris of Arkansas.
Though Suhr missed on three attempts at 15-93/4, she said she enjoyed the atmosphere in Sacramento and was happy to share a few words with American women pole vaulting’s first legend.
“We were talking about how each national championship has a challenge of its own,” Suhr said. “You are happy with a win, you never take it for granted. … It was some back-and-forth stories about the struggles of pole vaulting.”
Dragila had a good time chatting with fellow coaches – she is holding a clinic Monday through Friday at Sac State – and acknowledging admirers who came by to say hello.
“I want to get my jump shoes on, and get out there,” Dragila said with a smile. “My emotions are there, but in my mind I know I’m not there any more. I’m out here to support the girls coming up.”
From 1996 to 2005, Dragila won nine outdoor and eight indoor American titles in addition to three world titles. She captured the gold medal the first time the women’s pole vault was held in the Olympics in 2000.
Telegenic and articulate, Dragila made it cool for girls to vault.
Now it’s the 32-year-old Suhr who has taken the bar even higher.
She’s been America’s top women’s vaulter since 2006. She holds the U.S. indoor record (16-5) and outdoor record (16-13/4). She’s been the world’s top-ranked vaulter the last two years.
She won Olympic gold in 2012, denying world outdoor record holder Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia a third consecutive Olympic title, after finishing second to Isinbayeva in 2008.
“We come from good backgrounds and have had a lot of consistent training,” said Dragila, now living in Chula Vista. “She’s been with the same coach her whole career. Pretty much that was the same for me when I was at the top of my game. That consistency gives you confidence.”
Both had a lot in common growing up. They didn’t give the pole vault a try until after high school.
Dragila, 43, competed in rodeo and track at Placer High School, at a time when there was no girls pole vault. She took up vaulting at Idaho State.
Suhr, then Jenn Stuczynski, grew up playing several sports in Fredonia, N.Y. She averaged 24.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in leading Roberts Wesleyan College of Rochester, N.Y., to the National Christian College Athletic Association national women’s basketball finals in 2004.
But it was during a pickup basketball game that she caught the eye of track coach Rick Suhr, now her husband.
“When he first approached me about vaulting, I said, ‘No thank you, that looks kind of scary,’ ” she said. “He talked me into it, and 10 months later I won my first U.S. title, and it’s taken off from there. … It’s been a crazy ride.”
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