New Iberia's Morgann Leleux isn't just in Tokyo for the sushi.
The All-American pole vaulter at both Georgia and with UL's Ragin' Cajuns is here to reach the victory stand at the Tokyo Olympics.
She knows all eyes will be watching TV back home, and she wants to give them something to cheer.
“I'm confident I can jump 4.7 meters (15 feet, 4 inches) or 4.8 (15-7),” said Leleux, the oldest daughter of Shane and Bridget Leleux, nicknamed Meaux. “I'm aiming to medal. I'm definitely more confident.”
Leleux finished behind top-ranked Kate Negeotte's 16-2.75 at the U.S. Olympic Trials n Eugene, Oregon, and ahead of the 15-1 posted by Sandi Morris, and she expects fierce competition in Tokyo.
Standouts like Russia's Anzhelka Sedorova (16-6 best), Great Britain's Holly Bradshaw (16-1) and Australia's Nina Kennedy (15-8), figure to be just as tall an order as the bar.
“We'll all have to jump better than we did in Eugene,” Leleux concluded.
It's a long way to Japan from South Louisiana, and it has taken some time to get a chance that may be a one-time opportunity.
Now 28, Leleux has improved at each stage of her career, from multiple state champion for Catholic High to All-American status for two programs in college, to alternate status for the 2016 USA Olympic roster, and to the elite group she has joined currently.
Aging like fine wine
She agrees with the notion that vaulters get better over time.
“I do believe you get better with age,” Leleux said. “I've learned so much about myself. I've learned about quality over quantity in training. I've taken control of my training. Technically, I'll be the youngest on our team.
“I'm 100% sure I can compete another year. I do want to have kids someday (she and huspand Jacob Romero celebrate their fifth anniversary this December), but pole vaulting is a part of me now.”
Athletes got a taste of performing before light crowds during the U.S Trials in Eugene, but it may be more severe yet as Tokyo officials have said fans will not be admitted following the declaration of a state of emergency because of of another COVID-19 virus outbreak – the same thing that postponed the 2020 games to 2021.
“It wasn't as packed as it was in 2016,” Leleux said of the Trials scene, “but the people still supported us. Taking that lap at the end with an American flag was really, really special.”
The state of emergency declared will prevent fans from attending Tokyo-venue events, and it might rob Leleux of having her close-knit family present.
“I love that my dad is still coaching me,” she said. “He always has had my back. I had my moments in high school, but it's great that he's always been there.”
Shane Leleux may not be able to coach his daughter, pending COVID-19 regulations.
“We were all going to go,” said younger sister Reagann, a multiple state pole vault champion and current hurdler and vaulter for UL's Ragin' Cajuns, “Now, we don't know.”
The picture will clear up soon enough. Morgann leaves for Japan on July 27, competes in preliminaries on Aug. 2 with an eye toward the Aug. 5 finals and returns Aug. 8.
The scrappy Trials competition should serve all three Americans well. Leleux took three attempts before clearing 14-5.25, then nailed 14-9 on her first try to regain momentum on the way to her career-best 15-5 clearance.
“It could have been any one of five of us to make the team,” she said. “I knew I had to fight, bar by bar, one jump at a time. Once I got through preliminaries, I didn't really care what the others were doing. I was focused on what I had to do.
“I was able to come back and make it work.”
Few events have as much fine-tuning as the pole vault, with adjustments to grip, carry, plant, angles, what pole to select for which weather conditions – heat, cold, dry, wet, windy or still. Mere inches can make an enormous diefference in the final outcome.
Perhaps that's one reason why vaulters excel late – it takes that long to figure it all out.
“The smaller the pole, the more flexible it is,” Leleux said. “The bigger poles are more stiff. If you have warm weather, the poles are soft. You want the standards as far back as possible.
“If your height goes into the bar, you go up a pole. You have to know where the pole is located in relation to the box.
“There are a lot of details to know.”
One thing is certain – Morgann Leleux plans to make this trip count.