Olympics Jerk Watch: Meet the Pole Vault Coach Who Will Berate You for Winning a Silver Medal

A Blog About the Olympic Games
Aug. 7 2012 3:59 PM

Olympics Jerk Watch: Meet the Pole Vault Coach Who Will Berate You for Winning a Silver Medal

Jenn Suhr
Jenn Suhr competes in the pole vault at the London Olympics.

Photo by Hannah Johnston/Getty Images.

Nominee: Rick Suhr

Home country: United States of America

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Known for: Pole vault coaching, tough loving.

Why he might be a jerk: Suhr, the husband and coach of gold medalist Jenn Suhr, lives up to every negative stereotype you’ve ever heard about pole vault coaches. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, after Jenn Suhr (then known as Jenn Stuczynski) took the silver medal in the women’s pole vault, NBC cameras captured Rick—then her coach but not yet her husband—apparently criticizing her for her second-place finish. “You weren’t on, your warm-up didn’t go well. You were at 55. You got caught up in that meat grinder. Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away) Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away).” To add insult to insult, he was texting somebody the whole time. More recently, Jenn Suhr expressed shock that, prior to Monday’s pole vault finals, Rick had told her he thought she was going to win the event: “I've competed 100 times and that's not something he says.”

Suhr has always been an intense guy, it seems. Two YouTube videos of Suhr in his high school wrestling days show him pinning opponent after opponent in montages set to Linkin Park’s “Numb” and Drowning Pool’s “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor”—both exceedingly jerky songs. “Rick Suhr teaches more than the pole vault," said one of the pole vault coach’s defenders. "He teaches toughness." But isn’t that the exact sort of thing people say about jerks to explain away their jerkiness?

Why he might not be a jerk: Though the Beijing incident inspired widespread Internet outrage, Jenn Stuczynski defended her coach, saying that NBC cameras didn’t capture their whole exchange, and that he had been texting his son to inform him that Jenn had won the silver medal. After winning gold on Monday, she reiterated her praise for Rick, saying: “People are like, ‘Your coach is intense.’ But it’s because he has that passion and knows how much I want it.” And Rick’s not always gruff: In a Q-and-A session posted online, he set the interviewer at ease by saying, “I won’t yell at you. I promise.”

Jerk score: I’ll give him 1.5 out of 3 for style, because though he verbally criticized Stuczynski after her silver medal, a real jerk would have also been texting her with the message “BAD JOB.” 1 out of 3 for technical merit, because he really doesn’t seem that much more jerky than most high-level coaches. 2 out of 3 for consistency, because he inexplicably held back from publicly berating his wife after she won gold. And 1 out of 1 in the “have you ever appeared in a YouTube video set to the tune of ‘Let the Bodies Hit the Floor’ ” category. 5.5 out of 10 for Rick Suhr.

 

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.