Raphael Holzdeppe in the mens Pole Vault Final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Moscow, Russia

Holzdeppe's pressure vaulting finally brings Germany a gold

The celebration for Raphael Holzdeppe began as soon as the bar on Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie's final vault at 5.96m crashed to the pit at the IAAF World Championships.

Off came the German's jersey, which was slipped over his head rather than wrenched into pieces, and the wild celebrations soon began.

“The vest began to irritate me. I would have loved to have just ripped it apart, like Robert Harting does, but I’m not as strong as him and I think I would have looked a bit stupid,” joked Holzdeppe later.

For this was more than just a win over France's Pole Vault king who had taken the Olympic and European titles in 2012

Never before in the history of the championships had a German won a World outdoor title, with Danny Ecker's bronze in 2007 being the previous high.

The triumph came on count back after Holzdeppe and Lavillenie both failed three times at 5.96m, but Holzdeppe had been flawless before then and Lavillenie had brought the bar down four times.

"It is so overwhelming," said the 23-year-old Holzdeppe. "But I knew that when you put him under pressure he is beatable."

So Holzdeppe did just that. From 5.65m, through to 5.82m and 5.89m, Holzdeppe did not have a miss.

"The advantage was that I always jumped before him," said Holzdeppe, who had equalled the World junior record of 5.80m in 2008 and won a bronze medal at both the European Championships and then Olympic Games in London.

Not that going first made the victory less pressurised.

“I was very nervous before my first jump and I took off too close to the bar at 5.65m but got over it. My coach told me to take my run up back a bit and after that, everything went perfectly. My sessions before coming to Moscow had been the best I had ever done and I knew I was in great shape so, especially after last year, I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t got a medal.”

After Holzdeppe missed three times at 5.96m, Lavillenie, the year's leading vaulter at 6.02m, a height he achieved little more than two weeks ago at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London, had one more chance.

Fortunately, at least for Holzdeppe, the bar was dislodged.

"I was really nervous watching him," admitted Holzdeppe, who had beaten Lavillenie earlier this year in Rome but whose career record against his rival was 25-6 in favour of the Frenchman since they first got to know each other in 2008.

“The final jump he made was so dramatic (for me). I couldn’t sit still during Renaud's third attempt at 5.96m, I was so tense. I knew that if he jumps it, I am second; if not, I have the gold.

"He has jumped 5.95m and higher so often this year, I was actually expecting him to somehow get over it. When he brought the bar down, I just wanted to start running around. The icing on the cake would have been attempting six metres, but it’s a championship, and I won so, in that respect, it could not have gone better.”

For Lavillenie, who also took bronze medals in Berlin 2009 and Daegu 2011, there was a feeling of frustration. Indeed, it was frustrating for French pole vaulting as a whole.

No French pole vaulter has ever won at the IAAF World Championships, despite the nation’s vaulters setting World records and winning Olympic golds in the 30 years since the championships came into being in 1983.

"2013 as a post-Olympic year is said to be difficult to handle," Lavillenie said. "Today I had more to lose than the others."

His technique was also uncharacteristically bad, he admitted, "but I fought to the end."

So while Lavillenie went away with the silver medal, Germany could celebrate Holzdeppe's victory and Bjorn Otto's bronze at 5.82m.

Coincidently, it was the same trio that shared the medals at the 2012 European Championships and Olympic Games, just in a different order.

"We will start our party at the German House and when they will close we will continue downtown," said the happy Holzdeppe.

Gene Cherry for the IAAF