- Associated Press - Monday, August 6, 2012

LONDON — For the first time before a big meet, Jenn Suhr heard a positive message from her husband, Rick, who’s also her coach.

While sending Jenn onto the field for the Olympic pole vault final Monday night, Rick told her nobody’s unbeatable — not even Russian superstar Yelena Isinbayeva, the two-time champion and world-record holder.

And so, Suhr went out and proved him right, defeating Isinbayeva, capturing the gold and giving a nice boost to the United States track and field team, which hasn’t been getting many breaks so far at the London Olympics.

“Before I went out here, he said, ‘You’re going to win this,’” Suhr said. “I’ve competed 100 times and that’s not something he says. It puts that extra spunk that I could do this. Someone else believes in me that much.”

When it was over, Suhr rushed over to the stands to see her husband, who gingerly wrapped an American flag around her shoulders while she sobbed into his chest.

A quite different scene from four years ago in Beijing, when Rick was caught on camera berating Suhr after her disappointing runner-up finish to Isinbayeva. Few knew at the time that they were romantically involved and would be married two years later.

Yes, they’ve come a long way together.

From training in a pair of Quonset huts that Rick connected together to form a jumping pit — the blue-collar practice area in western New York they call “Rocky’s Meat Cooler” — to winning an Olympic gold medal on the sport’s grandest stage.

Suhr vaulted 15 feet, 7 inches (4.75 meters) to defeat Cuba’s Yarisley Silva, who cleared the same height but lost on a tiebreaker because she had one more miss in the competition.

More significantly, Suhr beat Isinbayeva, who failed to become the first woman to win the same individual track and field event at three consecutive Olympics. Isinbayeva settled for bronze with a vault of 15-5 (4.70).

“Of course I’m not a fairy tale,” she said.

Though Isinbayeva has struggled since her last Olympic gold, Rick Suhr wouldn’t listen to any of that.

Like so many in their pole vaulting world, the Suhrs have long considered Isinbayeva the gold standard. After his wife finally beat the Russian, Rick compared Jenn to wrestler Rulon Gardner — who beat the undefeated Alexander Karelin in 2000 — and himself to Herb Brooks, who coached the 1980 Olympic hockey team to its shocking win over the Russians and eventual gold.

“It’s such a big upset, I don’t think people realize how big it actually is,” Rick Suhr said.

And yet, for the U.S. track team, it only moves the scoreboard up by one notch. Suhr’s was a surprise gold for the Americans on a night when they couldn’t catch a break anywhere else.

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