GREEN  As friends and family back home - including former Green track coach Dan Gourley - streamed the footage live, Kelsie Ahbe felt she was playing with house money in the Olympic women’s pole vault finals.

Ahbe, competing for Canada in Rio this summer, was among those who reached the qualifying height for the finals and she took to the runway at the Olympic Stadium feeling like she had already won in a sense. 

“Actually, getting to the olympic final was the goal all along,” Ahbe said. “For me, that was a moment I felt prepared for and when you look at that field, on paper, there’s no way I should have been in that final. To beat girls who are really good just to be in that final …. I’ve had so many people in my life help me work through it all and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my family and friends.”

One of those friends, Gourley, went online to watch the competition when he realized it wouldn’t be broadcast live on NBC. In Rio, Ahbe’s family looked on as she competed against the world’s best, ultimately placing 12th. Her secret to success at the Games was staying focused only on her event and what she needed to do in order to be ready.

There was plenty of time for that, as the pole vault final didn’t take place until the penultimate day of the Games. Before then, Ahbe spent the first week and a half of the Olympics in training camp in Rio, then in the athletes’ village.

She was able to hang out with her fellow Olympians in the athletes’ lounge in the village, or with her family at the Canadian team house. It was “difficult” to figure out how to use her spare time, but Ahbe didn’t attend any other sporting events as a spectator. She elected to be “in my own little world, away from everything,” an approach validated by qualifying for the finals.

One aspect of the Games that was conspicuously absent from Ahbe’s Rio experience was the danger of any of myriad threats that were a major topic of discussion before the festivities began. Mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, crime and water quality issues were discussed ad nauseum, but Ahbe didn’t see much of evidence of any of them in Rio.

“As an athlete, you’re taken care of and I didn’t for one second worry about my safety,” Ahbe said. “I think I saw one mosquito while I was there and honestly, I felt like the media blows those things out of proportion.”

When she did finally step onto the track, Ahbe found herself surrounded by the likes of Usain Bolt, Canadian sprint standout Andre de Grasse and other famous faces in the sport.

When it came time to compete, though, she tuned out as much of the noise as possible and allowed the massive scale of the Olympics and a packed stadium to shrink down to the size of the pole vault runway.

“Surrounded by so much success, at first it was like, ‘Wow, do I deserve to be here, but when you come to the concussion that I do deserve to be here with these great athletes, it’s crazy and surreal,” Ahbe said. “When you’re focused on executing and being in the competition, though, a lot of the stuff around you goes away.”

Now that the Olympics are behind her, Ahbe is moving on with the remainder of the track season. A trip to Belgium for the final Diamond League meet of the season earlier this month was one of the final entries on her schedule and after that, she’ll worry about whether to continue her track career or consider a move into the working world to make use of her college degree.

For now, she’s not taking too much time to ponder what she accomplished at the Olympics. There will be time for that once the track season ends and as a veteran competitor who has enjoyed a lot of wins along the way in high school, college and beyond, Ahbe doesn’t want to stop to pat herself on the back.

“I think that it will hit me eventually, it’s just that I’m still competing and to focus on and appreciate what I did in the Olympics … when I have down time in about a month to look back, I will, but right now is not the time.”

Those around her may disagree and want to revel in what she’s done, but Ahbe remains full speed ahead, trying to stack the next building block of success in her career on top of her Olympic experience and continue her climb. There's still room to grow and the former Green High School standout fully expects to rise above and meet the challenge.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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