U.S. pole vaulting coach Rick Suhr is kind of a dick

Last night, NBC aired the finals of the pole vault competition and American Jenn Stuczynski, who has only been vaulting for four years, captured the silver medal. She lost to Russian pole vaulting phenom (and world record holder) Yelena Isinbayeva.

The fact that Stuczynski won the silver after only having pole vaulted for four years is amazing. But what is even more amazing is the post-competition speech delivered by her (ponderously) mic’ed up coach, Rick Suhr. Here’s the transcription (update: video link below):

It’s the same old same old, you’re losing takeoff at the big heights. (shrugs) Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away) Gotta learn to keep takeoff. You got caught at that meat grinder. I did not – and I told 10 people – I didn’t wanna be caught in a meat grinder between 65 and 80. You had to, though. You weren’t on, your warmup didn’t go well. You were at 55. You got caught up in that meat grinder. Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away) Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away) Didn’t have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it’s a silver medal. Not bad for someone that’s been pole vaulting for four years. (looks down at his blackberry)

As you can see from the picture, it appears Stuczynski walked away from the interchange dejected that she only won a silver.

Regular readers know I played basketball for current Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, so I’ve been on the wrong end of my fair share of tongue-lashings. But one thing Ryan always did – once the season/milestone was over, he was always positive.

Coach Suhr, your athlete just won the silver medal. That means that, after just four years of training, she is the second best pole vaulter in the world. Sure, Isinbayeva is kind of annoying and I’m sure you really wanted to beat her, but she’s probably the best pole vaulter ever and in the grand scheme of things, Stuczynski’s accomplishment is amazing. She doesn’t need to be lectured about what she did wrong on national television. Let her enjoy her Olympic moment for a minute. She deserves your support and a pat on the back. Don’t be such a dick.

Thanks to Steve Rudniki who provided this link to the video. You have to watch a commercial first, but it’s worth it.

8/22 Update: I think we’re dealing with two sets of extremes here. One side wants to hang the coach (or at least wants her to fire him) while the other says that clip was taken totally out of context and that Suhr is not at fault for any of this.

The truth is somewhere in between. You can’t take his body language out of context and you can’t take the fact that he was not encouraging or congratulatory (at all) out of context either.

The right thing to do there – even if she asked (or says she asked) him what she did wrong – is to give a brief overview (if that) tell her that she did a good job and to enjoy her silver medal moment. Then, when the dust settles and you get back to the States, you break the competition tape out and go through everything that kept her from winning the gold.

That’s my $0.02 and I’m sticking to it.

9/7 Update: Here is an interview that ESPN did with Jenn Stuczynski where responds to the controversy. In short, she says that she asked Suhr what she did wrong, that he was texting someone to tell them that she got the silver, and that she wasn’t looking down in dejection when she walked away. (She was trying not to trip.)

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