Feature London, UK

Lavillenie – doing his best to continue the story of French vault success

Renaud Lavillenie of France won the gold medal in the Men's Pole Vault Final of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 10, 2012 (Getty Images)Renaud Lavillenie of France won the gold medal in the Men's Pole Vault Final of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 10, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
On a night of shock results, Renaud Lavillenie lived gloriously up to his billing as favourite in the Pole Vault as an Olympic record of 5.97 metres enabled him to become the fourth (including 1906) Frenchman to secure this title.

Lavillenie had to draw upon all his reserves to hold off the German challenge of Bjorn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe, who both cleared 5.91 to earn silver and bronze respectively, and in so doing he brought to mind the epic contest these three had undergone at the European Championships in Helsinki, where the order – and indeed the winning vault – were identical.

“It was the best fight I have ever done, so to win was just a dream, and I am so happy,” said the 25-year-old from Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire after emulating the Olympic victories of the late Pierre Quinon in 1984, Jean Galfione in 1996, and more distantly Fernand Gonder in 1906.

“It was very important to me to show to the world that the French have a great tradition in pole vaulting – although I can’t explain why there are so many French who are good in the event. I have been trying to do my best to continue the story.”

Asked about his initial reaction to his historic achievement at the post-event conference, Lavillenie responded with a grin: “I feel tired.” That just might have been a result of the amount of hugging he did amidst the French team in the aftermath of his victory.

He paid tribute to the two men sitting alongside him who had pushed him to such heights both in Helsinki and here in London.

“They are really good,” he said. “We have a really good fight and you know that in each competition you must be able to perform to the maximum because if not you can be beaten every time. It is really exciting.

“When you see three vaulters over 5.90 in a championships it is really Sergey Bubka’s generation. I think it’s very great.”

Asked why, once he had secured victory with his vault of 5.97, he had tried – unsuccessfully – to clear first 6.02m and then 6.07, Lavillenie responded: “The first height was the one Otto was trying. And 6.07 I tried because I wanted to try and be the second man in the story of the Pole Vault.”

The thirteen top performances of all time still stand to Bubka, whose outdoor World record of 6.14m was set at the high altitude of Sestriere in 1994. The all-time indoor listings tell a similar story, with the great Ukrainian holding the seven best jumps, best of which was his 6.15 in Donetsk in 1993, which is the overall World record.

Had the Frenchman cleared at his most ambitious attempt here in front of a volubly supportive 80,000 crowd, he would have become the second highest jumper ever – a distinction currently held by Australia’s 2008 Olympic champion Steve Hooker, whose Olympic record he bettered here by one centimetre. Hooker has a 6.06 vault to his credit indoors, while Maksim Tarasov of Russia and Dmitri Markov of Australia have been the closest challengers to Bubka outdoors with clearances of 6.05.

But Lavillenie’s best efforts remain the 6.03 he vaulted indoors last year and the 6.01 he managed outdoors in 2009.

Speaking of his attempt at 6.07, he added: “It is something I know how to do. But to be honest I was a little bit tired.”

When it was put to him that his coach questioned why he had not gone for a World record of 6.16, he said with another grin: “I don’t care. A vault of 6.16 can be great. But first 6.07 can be very important. Step by step I have to go – and it’s not finished. Maybe in the future, we will see.”

The long gaps between his final efforts, caused by medal ceremonies, were filled, he said, by an effort to think positively. “I was just thinking about doing the best I could do,” he said. “I just tried to take the pressure out of my mind and enjoy this moment, because it was the best moment I ever had.”

Asked if he now considered himself the best French pole vaulter of all time, he said: “If someone has said that about me I don’t think something different. I just missed one gold medal in the World championships outdoors, but I have won everything else. So I think he is right. I can’t say any different.”

On the question of who might prove the strong challengers at the 2016 Games in Rio, Lavillenie commented: “We don’t know. We can’t know the future. In 2008 I wasn’t there. So we will see.”

But on the evidence of tonight, it seems safe to put one name in the frame: Renaud Lavillenie.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF