Renaud Lavillenie of France celebrates winning gold in the Men's Pole Vault Final on Day 14 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 10, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Lavillenie who came into the Games holding the world lead of 5.97 which he equalled tonight, had qualified smoothly on Wednesday morning as one of only two who could clear 5.65. The other was Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe, who would closely challenge him today.
The 25-year-old Frenchman who did not have the greatest lead-ins to these Games with a no height in his last competition in Szczecin, Poland which followed on from a fifth place in the rain and cold at the London Diamond League, was consistency itself today with first time clearances at his three opening heights - 5.65, 5.75 and 5.85.
At that stage of the competition Lavillenie was providing a beautiful demonstration of vaulting for the public with clean crisp clearances which were in marked contrast to his opponents who without exception were struggling with misses before or at 5.85. Registering no mark at all were defending Olympic champion Steve Hooker of Australia and USA’s Brad Walker, the 2007 World champion, both 6 metres plus vaulters at their prime.
5.85 was the grave yard of ambitions for Beijing silver medallist Russia’s Yevgeniy Lukyanenko (6th), Britain’s Steve Lewis (5th) and Russian Dmitriy Starodubtsev who was fifth in Beijing. These three men had bests of 5.75, and were separated on count back.
Scraping through to challenge Lavillenie were two Germans Holzdeppe, who needed three attempts to clear the height, and Bjorn Otto, who cleared on his second. That progression set up the same scenario as at the recent European championships in Helsinki when these three men had battled for honours. Then the Frenchman succeeded, with Otto in silver and his compatriot in bronze, and that was also to be the result today.
However, when the two Germans sailed over 5.91 and the bar crashed to the landing mat after Lavillenie’s attempt, there was one moment of doubt. Might there be a small chink in the Frenchman’s armour?
The anguish on Lavillenie’s face, who was more surprised than anyone about his failure, said it all but to lose a battle does not always mean you have lost the war, and the Frenchman’s response was to save his energy and immediately move his campaign to a different battlefield, 5.97m.
It was an obvious and sensible tactical move and one that paid off as while on his second attempt a large roar from the crowd engulfed the stadium to acknowledge his clearance, there were to be only 'aah’s’ of disappointment from the spectators to follow the Germans’ efforts. Otto tried a similar tactical retreat with his third and final effort remaining, moving it instead to 6.02 but he failed there too.
Lavillenie, had one failed attempt at 6.02 and with the laurels secure moved to two misses at 6.07. None were close but who really cared, as where it really counted, in his battle with his 13 opponents tonight, the Frenchman was clearly supreme.
"I can't really believe it. Maybe tomorrow I will wake up and realise that I am an Olympic champion. The Germans were very strong and they pushed me to my limits. This has to be the best thing in my life," said the gold medallist.
Chris Turner for the IAAF