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Upset in the vault

It took a vaulter who had not just one lifetime-best vault, but three in succession to knock off reigning world pole vault champion Sam Kendricks.

Scott Houston, representing Shore Athletic Club, captured the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships pole vault national title — his first U.S. national title — Saturday afternoon at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Houston, of Oak Ridge, N.C., who is now an assistant track and field coach for High Point University, had a indoor personal-best of 5.71 meters (18 feet, 8 inches) coming into the Saturday’s final, about a foot shy of Kendricks’ best performance.

But upsets do happen.

“That’s why we compete,” Houston said, after stepping off the top of the podium. “I like to think it was part of the plan. You don’t train to have a bad day, and I’ve had plenty of bad days in the past. Surprisingly enough, I think I was the oldest male competitor (27 years old) in the pole vault today, and the tables have turned. I’ve failed a lot and I’ve learned a lot. I think that helped lead me to what I did today.”

Kendricks, a native of Oxford, Miss., wasn’t just the presumptive favorite, he was perhaps one of the biggest favorites in the three-day championships.

And it’s a safe bet he didn’t expect to finish second to Houston, especially coming off an unbeaten season. Yet, after hitting the bar on his final attempt at 19 feet, 1½ inches (5.83 meters), Kendricks jumped up, and waved to the crowd with a big smile on his face.

“I’ve been to a lot of meets,” Kendricks said. “Most men leave unhappy (after they lose), and I don’t want to be one of those men.”

Kendricks had reason for solace. He already met the world championships standard of 5.78 meters earlier this season, and even on an off day, he still met the world standard.

“It’s so cool in our event that a lot of guys find satisfaction, even without the victory,” Kendricks said. “My pride has nothing to do with this; (this loss) does not infringe on that at all. I was glad to lose to Scotty Houston. I don’t like to lose, not at all, but coming here to Albuquerque gives a lot of guys a great chance to jump high. It keeps you honest.”

A seven-time American champion, Kendricks said there was no guarantee to win an eighth. Houston had a career day, and really, any one of the top five or six guys could have mirrored Houston’s performance.

“That’s what is really cool when you’re in a country like (the United States),” Kendricks said. “You really have to compete for your spot.”

In what may be a harbinger for big things at next month’s IAAF World Championships in Birmingham, England, Kendricks switched things up using new poles. Despite the lack of experience in competition with those poles, he nearly won.

“Every meet you have to approach differently,” Kendricks said. “The poles were great, and they’re going to turn out great in the future. But I don’t have the most experience with them. It took me the whole competition to accrue some great jumps, and it wasn’t a bad day for me. I still jumped 5.78 (meters), and that’s the world standard.”

Although defeat has not come often for Kendricks, his optimism and easy acceptance of a rare loss is rooted in the humbling nature of a specialized sport.

“(Pole-vaulters) will never be the ones to blame somebody else,” Kendricks said. “The reason I didn’t win today wasn’t because of my coach, my agent or because of Scotty. It was because of me, and it’s great. It allows us to mature as athletes and progress toward the future.”

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