At the 2016 Rio Olympics, pole vaulter Sandi Morris was a millimeter away from winning gold. If she cleared 4.90 meters (16 feet, 3/4 inches), the medal was hers. As she went up and over, her left thigh brushed the bar. "I barely felt it," she says, remembering the competition. "I thought it would stay on." It did, briefly. But no. The bar tumbled to the mat and she was awarded the silver on a tiebreaker.
Earlier this month, however, Morris grabbed her gold medal on the world stage -- this time at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England, where she cleared 4.95 meters on her third attempt. That gives Morris not only the gold but also a world-leading mark.
And now, what next? Keep aiming higher, of course.
To do that, she'll have to keep hammering away at a series of lower-body drills that enable her to sprint, plant, take flight and twist in midair.
"For pole vault," she says, "we have to do a lot of hurdle mobility and hip flexor strengthening exercises. There are many variations, and they never get easier."
Here's one she does regularly:
The move: Hurdle hip mobility
How I do it: Hold a medicine ball overhead and walk over 10 hurdles. Repeat. If you have access to real hurdles, put them on the lowest notch and push them together. If you don't have hurdles, you can imagine them. Step over them quickly. When those get too easy, try keeping your legs straight the whole time. For an extra challenge, try standing perpendicular to the hurdles and walk over them sideways.
When I do it: For 30 minutes, four times a week
Why I do it: When you run down the runway, pole vaulters run with high knees. People think it looks goofy, but the high knees set you up for the takeoff at the end. Sprinters run totally differently and wouldn't be able to jump at the end. Holding a ball overhead works on our arm strength. Pole vaulting is all about arm strength. So this tones your arms and gives you strength.
Why it's so killer: It's the amount we do -- and the fact that we're holding a medicine ball overhead burns your shoulders and lats.