Former GVSU pole vaulter's Olympic dream far from over
Kristen Hixson came up just short of Rio Olympics, looks ahead to future
GVL / Courtesy - Dean Breest Hixson takes first place in pole vault on May 22, 2014.
Grand Valley State track and field alumna Kristen Hixson will continue her pole vaulting career after coming up just short at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon July 10.
“I just enjoy it,” she said. “I have fun doing it. A lot of people try to find a passion in their life and some people don’t ever. I feel really blessed to have a passion like this and to be able to pursue it. I always tell myself the day I’m not having fun anymore, the day that it is not a passion of mine, is the day that I want to be done. Until that day, I’m going to keep going.”
The 24-year-old finished ninth at the trials with a height of 4.50 meters, but there wasn’t even a brief moment when she considered retirement from the sport she has dedicated herself to.
“As soon as I was done and feeling all those emotions, it was, alright, what’s next?” she said. “That’s how I knew everything was going to be okay, and the next four years are going to be a great journey, even better than these last couple were.”
Hixson cleared the 4.35-meter bar in the qualifying round of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials July 8. That one vault was all she needed to advance to the event final July 10.
“I was really relieved,” she said. “I think the most stressful part of the whole experience was actually qualifying for the finals and once I did, pretty much all of the nerves were gone at that point and there was a lot of stress off my shoulders.”
Two days later, on July 10, Hixson again returned to the pole vault runway to contest for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team against the 13 other women who had qualified for the final.
She cleared on her first attempt at 4.40 meters, and on her second attempt at 4.50 meters, but couldn’t find her way over the bar at 4.60 meters, leaving her in ninth place. The top three finishers—Jenn Suhr, Sandi Morris and Lexi Weeks—all qualified for the Rio Games, where Morris won the silver medal.
Hixson wasn’t pleased with coming up short.
“I was disappointed in myself,” she said. “Solely on the fact that it wasn’t my best day, unfortunately. That was the point of these past couple years, for that one day. It’s heartbreaking and very disappointing. It’s hard not to be really hard on yourself after that.”
Even a few weeks later, Hixson still feels the weight of not making the Olympic team, but she has begun to see a silver lining.
“I’m my hardest critic most of the time,” she said. “I’m still obviously really disappointed and I don’t think that’s really ever going to go away. It’s just this really heavy feeling and I don’t see it going away, but looking forward, having that experience under my belt for the next four years is something I can take away from it. If anything, it has lit a fire and I’m excited for the next four years.”
Hixson’s former GVSU teammate, Jaime Roberts, has high hopes for Hixson.
“She’s jumping high heights because she works her butt off,” Roberts said. “She puts in all that effort and she deserves every little bit of success.”
The majority of Hixson’s training over the past few years has been at GVSU. Even in the two years since her graduation, she has continued to hang around and take advantage of the top-level instruction of pole vaulting coach Lou Andreadis.
“She is just like another teammate, but she’s there to offer advice or tips or compliments,” Roberts said. “Her presence there makes everyone want to work a little harder.
“It’s that next level of competition and what we strive to be. To see her and know that what she went through is exactly the same training we’re going through, I think is just a little more motivation for us to keep working.”
As Hixson sees it, training at GVSU has gotten her very near the top of the pole vaulting world, so there is no need for change at this point.
On July 29, Hixson was able to shrug off the disappointment of the trials and rebound with a return trip to Eugene, where she recorded a second-place finish at the first ever Summer Series put on by TrackTown USA.
“It was a fun, domestic meet where we could earn money and take a couple weeks break before we get going again,” Hixson said.
Hixson will enjoy her time off from pole vaulting, but is excited to return to competition in December when her quest for the 2020 Tokyo Games will begin.