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When US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks tested positive for COVID-19, alternate Matt Ludwig got on a plane

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When US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks tested positive for COVID-19, alternate Matt Ludwig got on a plane

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TOKYO — U.S. pole vaulter Matt Ludwig got the call at about 11 p.m. ET Wednesday. Sam Kendricks had tested positive for COVID-19 and was out of the Tokyo Olympics. And Ludwig, the alternate, was in. 

“You have a flight in about 8 hours,” Ludwig’s manager told him.

The 25-year-aged Ludwig was within the center of a transfer, packing up the stuff in his Akron, Ohio apartment. “I had some totally different stresses going on,” he said, “however then immediately all that changed.” He drove to the University of Akron to catch up his poles at 4 a.m., then was off to the Cleveland airport to catch a 7: 45 p.m. flight to Tokyo.

From there, Ludwig said, it was all a bit of a blur. He landed at 4 p.m. local time in Tokyo on Friday and got to his room within the Olympic Village at 10 p.m. He grabbed a snack, got seven hours of sleep and tried his most efficient to prepare for the outlet round of Olympic pole vault competition, which started at 9: 40 a.m. on Saturday.

“I did not have a uniform unless an hour before the bus left this morning,” he said.

Less than 18 hours after he landed in Tokyo, Ludwig managed to clear the first two bars in preliminary competition, along with one location at a height of a itsy-bitsy more than 18 toes, however failed to qualify for the final.

It had been about 48 hours since he stumbled on out he would procure to compete at the Olympics. And suitable like that, it was over.

“It was clearly a very fast, up-and-down roller coaster of emotions, without making it to the final in a few days,” Ludwig said. “But it absolutely’s an titillating step in my career and one thing that’s positively been lifestyles-changing.”

As the fourth-place finisher at last month’s Olympic trials, Ludwig knew he would deserve to be ready at a moment’s glimpse in case one of the three qualifiers – Kendricks, Chris Nilsen and KC Lightfoot – was unable to compete.

But after the qualifying trio had landed in Tokyo and gone by means of a practice round earlier this week, Ludwig fairly great concept that was it. He had shifted his focal level to an upcoming meet in Poland on Aug. 15, and started thinking about what he concept would be his subsequent Olympic alternative, in Paris in 2024.

“Not that you are giving up hope, however you are variety of like ‘OK, want them success, they are going to carry out great,” ” he said. “I would by no means have anticipated a call probably 36 hours before competition that says ‘good day, you have to procure across the sphere lawful now.’ “

It be the form of whirlwind that minor-league baseball players skills when they are called as much as the large leagues in a pinch. Excluding this one alive to a 13-hour flight, and a convoluted location of COVID-19 protocols to navigate.

“Being an alternate, he had to faux like he was getting on the subject of the protocols, taking assessments,” Akron track and discipline coach Dennis Mitchell told The Akron Beacon Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Community. “So within the occasion that they wished to call him up at a moment’s glimpse, he was ready – which is exactly what happened.”

Ludwig said he was grateful for the alternative to be in Tokyo, however also frustrated on behalf of Kendricks, the reigning world champion who’s now isolating at a Tokyo resort.

Lightfoot and Nilsen, who both qualified for the pole vault final, expressed a similar sentiment. Although both males said they have been vaccinated, they acknowledged that news of Kendricks’ positive take a look at was concerning.

“We knew that it may happen to anyone, and it suitable happened to be unfortunate adequate to be Sam,” Nilsen said.

Nilsen said he and Lightfoot both took two COVID-19 saliva assessments before competing Saturday. Lightfoot added that they all had one pole vault practice collectively, the place Kendricks was fresh, however that he and Nilsen did not have prolonged shut contact with Kendricks.

“He suitable got right here, so we did not even have that great time to even be around him,” Lightfoot said. “The only time we had been really around him was out at the track, outside, and it be not like we had been hugging each other or anything.”

Lightfoot and Nilsen will return to competition Tuesday, with hopes of winning a medal. And Ludwig will now strive to determine what’s subsequent, after his Olympic whirlwind. Within the moments after competition, he admitted he had “no idea” when he’d be flying house, nor any sense of how he’d spent the relaxation of his shock day shuttle to Tokyo.

“Lunch,” he said. “(I am going to) start with that.”

Ludwig said he’d leave the venue a bit disappointed in his performance, regardless of the chaotic circumstances surrounding it. He mentioned a similar situation in his first day shuttle to China, when he arrived about 20 hours before competing. He was exhausted then too, he said. He suitable competed a itsy-bitsy bit better. 

But Ludwig said he’s proud, too, as are his teammates.

“No one can take anything away from Matt Ludwig ever again,” Nilsen said. “The dude got a 14- or 13-hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo, had six or seven hours of sleep and then got on the runway and jumped two bars. So the honour I have for that man is titanic.”

Ludwig takes solace within the hope that this may not be his final Olympic alternative. He said he started thinking about the 2024 Games a few days after lacking out on the stay three at trials. He has each intention of being in Paris.

But within the fleeting world of professional sports activities, Ludwig also said he planned to soak up this skills, as unusual as it may have been. He’s an Olympian now, no matter what happens in 2024 or 2028. And no one can take that away from him.

“This is one thing that stays for lifestyles,” he said. 

Contributing: Marla Ridenour

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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When US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks tested positive for COVID-19, alternate Matt Ludwig got on a plane