In Olympic Competition, Pole-Vaulter Kendricks is Soldier First

By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

With intense focus on his upcoming jump, Olympic pole-vaulter Sam Kendricks charged toward the crossbar in the preliminary round at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro … but then came to a screeching halt.

There, on the mat, he stood at attention as the familiar notes of the U.S. national anthem began to waft through the arena.

With the countless hours of practice and years of dedication to the sport, Kendricks, a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve, in that moment demonstrated to the world something very unique: he was a soldier first.

Kendricks, who hails from Oxford, Mississippi, and graduated from the University of Mississippi, said he was intently focused on his run and didn’t realize his friend, Team USA shot-putter Michelle Carter, was about to be awarded her gold medal.

“You try to blur out the chaos of the stadium and that’s what had happened,” Kendricks said after a Pentagon event honoring the 2016 active-duty military Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks, of Oxford, Miss., wins the bronze medal in the men's pole vault at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 15, 2016. Army photo by Tim Hipps

Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks, of Oxford, Miss., wins the bronze medal in the men’s pole vault at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 15, 2016. Army photo by Tim Hipps

Full Video: Carter Honors Military Olympians, Paralympians

“As the stadium grew quiet, I heard the Star-Spangled Banner playing, and I was already running,” he said. “Immediately, my training kicks in. I stop. I try to find the nearest rising flag and didn’t realize I was on camera at all.”

But, the moment was captured on camera and made an impact: U.S. and international press reported on it. The video was uploaded on YouTube and shared on social media.

“With that simple act, he made us proud, and when he later won the bronze medal, he made us all cheer as well,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at the Pentagon event. “But in doing so, Sam also reminded everyone watching that these Olympians, Paralympians and coaches never stop being members of Team DoD.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter stands with soldiers who competed in the 2016 Paralympics and Olympics during an awards ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Oct. 3, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

Defense Secretary Ash Carter stands with soldiers who competed in the 2016 Paralympics and Olympics during an awards ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Oct. 3, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

And, it was noticed up the chain of command … all the way up the chain.

“Sam Kendricks, a U.S. Army reservist and pole vaulter, somehow stopped himself mid-sprint and stood at attention when he heard the national anthem playing on the other side of the stadium,” President Barack Obama said at the White House last week.

“Thank you, Sam,” the president said at the event honoring the 2016 USA Olympic and Paralympic Teams.

But Kendricks explained he is a soldier first.

“I think it was a moment that any serviceman or woman would have done the same. I was just the guy on the track at that moment,” he said.

Follow the Department of Defense on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter at @FerdinandoDoD.

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