Soldier Is 1st Military Athlete on US Olympic Team to Medal in Rio

Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks cleared the pole vault bar at 19 feet 2-¼ inches to take third place and win a bronze medal on Monday night at the Rio Olympics, becoming the first military member of the U.S. team to medal.

It also marked the first pole vault medal for the United States in a dozen years -- since since Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson went 1-2 at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

Army Secretary Eric Fanning, who will be part of the U.S. Presidential Delegation attending the closing ceremonies on Sunday, took to Twitter to congratulate Kendricks on the achievement.

"Congrats @samkendricks! USA!" Fanning tweeted on Monday night after the event. "#ArmyOlympian #TeamUSA." This morning, he added, "Still thinking about @SamKendricks's medal last night, Now, even more energized for my trip to #Rio2016. #ArmyProud."

Kendricks, who led the competition after the qualifying rounds, finished behind Brazil's Thiago Silva and France's Renaud Lavillenie.

Silva won gold with an Olympic record of 19 feet 8 inches with the boisterous support of Brazilian fans. They were so rowdy that silver medalist, world record holder and defending Olympic champion Lavillenie complained about the crowd booing him on his final jump. "There is no respect. There is no fair play. It's the Olympics. So if we have no respect in the Olympics, where can we get respect?"

Kendricks, who graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2014 and is the five-time U.S. champion, previously represented Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics.

"As a military man and as a U.S. athlete, I keep my haircut in order to put the best foot forward for all the soldiers who are watching," Kendricks said. "Those guys are really proud of me and have given me every chance to continue as a civilian," he added, noting that he was proud "to represent the Americans on two fronts, as a military man and as a U.S. athlete."

While Kendricks is the first U.S. military athlete to medal at the Rio Games, American service members were shut out in the shooting competitions after finishing behind competitors from such countries as Russia and China. The five soldiers and one Marine competed Aug. 8-14 in 50-meter rifle, 10-meter air rifle, 25-meter pistol, and double trap shotgun events in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

But there are still opportunities left for U.S. military members to medal in the 2016 Olympic Games.

On Wednesday, Army Spc. Hillary Bor will compete in the Men's 3,000 meter Steeplechase Final and Army Spc. Paul Chelimo will try to qualify in the Men's 5,000 meter. On Thursday, Army Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher competes in the Modern pentathlon and Army Staff Sgt. John Nunn races in the Men's 50 kilometer walk on Friday.

--James Barber can be reached at jbarber@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mrjamesbarber.

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