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Demi Payne surprises pole-vaulting field at USATF Indoor Championships

Demi Payne missed on her first two attempts to clear 14-11, but did so on her final try.Michael Dwyer/AP

As a 21-year-old junior on the University of Kansas track team headed for a kinesiology degree, Demi Payne thought she knew what she wanted out of life. But it wasn’t until her daughter Charlee was born last year that a singular goal became clear.

She needed to become a champion pole vaulter.

“Before I had my child, I was kind of just pole vaulting for fun,” Payne said. “After I had her, I had a brand-new focus, like this is my last chance to do it — I better do it.”

In the third and final day of competition at the 2015 USA Track & Field Indoor Championships at Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, Payne’s focus brought the 23-year-old to new heights. The senior from Stephen F. Austin carried out one of the most shocking victories of the weekend, departing Boston as an American champion.


“The whole competition, the field was so talented — Jenn [Suhr], Mary [Saxer] — it’s a bit intimidating,” Payne said. “But I knew I could win. It was a matter of focusing and getting over the bar.”

In late January, Payne established a NCAA pole-vaulting record at 15 feet 7 inches. Entering Sunday’s final, her vault was the best of any American woman in 2015.

Payne cleared her first three heights before meeting any trouble — missing the first two attempts at 14-11.

On her final chance, she was able to climb over the bar — the only entrant to do so — before failing to make it over 15-1.

The reigning American champion, Saxer elected to pass at 14-11 before missing all three attempts at 15-1. Suhr, the world record-holder at 16-5, entered the competition at 15-1, but withdrew with an injury.

“That’s the plan,” Payne said when asked about the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. “I’ve got all these goals and I feel like I’ve hit every single one so far, so just to see it coming together is crazy.”


While a young mother mastered the pole vault, a new mother blazed through 600 meters.

Alysia Montano made headlines around the world last June when, at 34 weeks pregnant, she competed in the 800 meters at the 2014 USATF Outdoor Championships.

Six months ago, she gave birth to her daughter. And on Sunday, she won the women’s 600 meters with a time of 1 minute, 26.59 seconds.

“You know, I did my very best to stay fit during my pregnancy,” Montano said. “It wasn’t about training, it wasn’t for 800 meters, it was about being healthy for me and my baby, and I think that bid well for me.”

Ajee’ Wilson had the best time in the preliminaries, but fell hard midway through the race. She managed to finish in 1:39.39.

Alfred “AG” Kruger continued to wag his finger at Father Time in winning the men’s weight throw. The 36-year-old captured the crown on his sixth and final throw — a distance of 76-9¾.

The three-time Olympian now has 14 USATF titles, nine of which have come indoors.

“Early on, I was thinking too much, doing too much,” Kruger said. “[So I said] . . . just let it happen; that’s when the big stuff comes. You’ve done all your thinking and training. Let it go and see what happens in the end.”

Shannon Rowbury was a two-time winner this weekend, pairing her mile win Saturday with the 2-mile title Sunday. Rowbury passed her training partner, Jordan Hasay, in the final 50 meters to finish in 9:43.94.


Brittany Smith entered Sunday as the 2015 world leader in the shot put (62-4½). Come evening, she was passed on the world leaderboard three times — by the same person.

Michelle Carter seemingly got stronger through the competition, following world-best throws in Round 2 (63-4¾) and Round 4 (63-7½) by launching her final attempt 63-9¾.

In Masters competition, Anselm LeBourne completed the men’s 1,500 in 4:13.77, breaking his world record for the age group (55-59) by more than six seconds.

It was the fourth time in 2015 the 55-year old LeBourne has broken an M55 record.

Andrew MacDougall can be reached at andrew.
Follow him on Twitter @Andy_MacDougall.