Making the Team

By Mark Ferguson (Fall 2008 Green and White)

Photo by Mark Ferguson
Kelsie Hendry

Although Kelsie Hendry (BA'04) holds the Canadian record in the pole vault, it was only days before the games began that she knew she would be going to Beijing.

After exceeding the International Olympic Committee (IOC) standard, and breaking the Canadian record, with a vault of 4.55 metres at a meet in Utah in May, it appeared Hendry's dream of going to the Olympics was a reality. But Athletics Canada said her vault would not count because the meet was not recognized

"I thought, is this really happening?" says Hendry. "I broke the Canadian record, and it didn't count. I was so let down."

But that did not stop the 26-year-old track star. Two weeks later, she was at it again, at a meet in Prince Albert, SK, with another vault of 4.55 metres. This time her Canadian record would stick and prove good enough to earn her a spot on the Canadian Olympic team.

Hendry joins a proud list of University of Saskatchewan students and alumni who have competed at the Olympic games, including Diane Jones-Konihowski (BEd'75), Cyprian Enweani (MD'89) and paralympic athlete Lisa Frank (BE'06). She is currently completing her BEd, doing an internship at a local Saskatoon high school.

"I've done Olympic standards a lot," says Hendry. "I felt like I earned my spot on the team. It made me stronger as an athlete (but) there's always some drama and a lot of people had it worse than me."

She competed at a meet in Vancouver and at the national championships in Windsor in the weeks leading up to the 2008 games, but this barrage of qualifying events may have taken its toll on Hendry. By the time she arrived in Beijing, things weren't going as well as they were earlier in the season.

"I got a taste but I wanted more. I went down and I could have gone up," she says about her performance of clearing 4.30 metres on the Olympic stage. "I felt OK, but practices weren't going as well as I hoped. My top 12 jumps were 2 months before the games so I guess I peaked too early. I petered out... But my goal is to be a contender for 2012."

Having just returned from Beijing, Hendry is already making plans for the next summer games, in London, England. Her training and competition routine is going to be a little different to ensure she is ready to peak at the games themselves, and she'd like to find a better balance between training and the other things in life. Training full time, she says, is too many eggs in one basket.

"I don't like just training. There's too much focus on one thing, and if it goes wrong... Before the games, I just trained. Track was the only thing I was doing and it didn't work. I hit a plateau. I was putting all my energy and thought into it, and I thought, why isn't this going right? It's not a good feeling."

Like she's done in the past, Hendry flew down to Arizona for a month in the spring to train with Greg Hull. The world-renowned coach has helped other Olympic gold medalists, and Hendry says he gave her the confidence to compete at the Olympic Games.

"You can compete with the best in the world," he told her, a notion she's carried with her for some time.

Hendry knew early on that pole vaulting was something she was meant to do. She began as a member of the University of Saskatchewan Huskie track and field team in 2000. With a strong background in gymnastics, the pole vault just came naturally, she says. And it didn't take long before the dream of going to the Olympics popped in her head.

"I was really excited, it was like I found my niche. I think I had quick success with the vault."

Hendry helped the Huskie women's track team win four national titles in her five years, and she herself won three national titles as a vaulter, breaking the Canadian record each time. She credits having strong teammates and coaches for pushing her limits as an athlete.

"I walked on to a great team. We had such a good program," says Hendry about the Huskies. "That helped a lot with training. We could all learn from each other. It was just a great atmosphere."

By 2004, Hendry was already meeting the IOC standards for the games in Athens. Unfortunately, she was not meeting the Canadian standard, and two other vaulters made the national team. Hendry says, like a lot of track events, the Canadian records are actually harder to beat than the Olympic ones, but she set her sights on being ready for the 2008 Beijing games.

Other than competing, Hendry says her favourite memory from Beijing is being part of the crowd at the Olympic stadium watching Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt win the 100-metre sprint. Hendry mimics his dance to the finish line on the track at Griffiths Stadium, with her arms waving in the air, laughing.

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