Armand Duplantis in the pole vault at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Lausanne, Switzerland

Onwards and upwards for high-flying Duplantis

Before last week’s IAAF Diamond League meeting In Paris, world champion Sam Kendricks was asked to assess the 18-year-old Swede who had recently beaten him and every other pole vaulter of note on his home ground of Stockholm – Armand “Mondo” Duplantis.

“Am I impressed with Armand?” said the US Army Reserve officer from Mississippi. “I’ve been following him for probably the last decade. I’m one of his biggest fans. The whole thing about Mondo is everyone saw him coming. I don’t know if he was ever a dark horse.”

With his first IAAF Diamond League victory earned, and his personal best ticking up to the heady height of 5.93m this season, it’s fair to say that the young man whom everyone saw coming has now arrived.

Sure, he’s a rival. But you feel as if, for some of his fellow vaulters, the richly talented Duplantis is also a project. Loved and feared at the same time.

But before he presses on with Project Rise, Duplantis – still so ridiculously young – has the opportunity to seal his junior career by adding a gold medal at the imminent IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 to the bronze he earned two years ago in Bydgoszcz.

Adjusting to the street scene

In what was his last event before travelling to Finland, Duplantis finished a slightly frustrated fourth in yesterday evening’s prequel to the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne as the world’s finest vaulting talents strove compellingly on a raised runway set up within the Fan Zone beside Lake Leman which, 24 hours earlier, had held thousands of hopeful, and ultimately resigned Swiss football supporters.

With his father and coach Greg among the crowd packed within a few feet of the competitive action, Duplantis – for whom such outdoor events are still a novelty – negotiated his way past 5.70m before encountering three failures at 5.84m in a competition won by France’s renascent 31-year-old world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie with 5.91m, with Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski finishing second with a season’s best of 5.84m.

Had Duplantis senior, a former vaulter himself, been able to reprise his best of 5.80m, he would have finished third. As it was, he contented with offering his son quiet trackside advice, although he did admit, when prompted by the event MC, that yes, he was proud of his son…

Immediately after the competition Duplantis, his large eyes intense, answered questions with precision, even taking control of the recording dictaphone when noise levels rose around him. But he was clearly conducting an internal review of the events that had just passed – it was like talking to someone who was composing a symphony in their head at the same time.

“You can never know everything, so there are so many things to learn every day,” he said. “Every day is a big learning experience, especially today. It was a little tough to get used to the runway. I mean, Renaud and Pawel did a great job with it and it was good that they got the step in and put on a show for the crowd.

“I’ve not had an extreme amount of experience of this kind of set up, but I know I have to jump on it more in the future so today was a great learning experience.

“But I know that I’m still in good form, I felt great running, I feel healthy and strong so I know I’ll jump high in the future.”

On Tampere: ‘It’s going to be difficult, because pole vaulting is a very difficult event’

Asked how he will deal with effectively dropping down a level with the impending competition in Tampere, he considered the question for a moment before responding:

“I’ve just got to make it like any other meet, because I know it’s going to be difficult, because pole vaulting is a very difficult event. You still have to focus on yourself and take it one bar at a time. I know that I can’t get ahead of myself. So I’ll stick to a bar at a time and try to take home the gold.”

If he can do, it would complete his set, given that he won the IAAF World U18 Championships in Cali three years ago.

In terms of his opposition at the championships, which run from 10-15 July at the Ratina Stadium, he responded: “I know who they are. They’re good.”

So who were his main rivals?

“Rivals? I don’t know if there are any obvious rivals because there’s a big group at the 5.50-5.60 range. So I don’t know what you consider a rival. You would have to define rival for me.

“It’s a championship meet so anybody could pop off a big bar. It’s kind of how those things work.”

Armand Duplantis in the pole vault at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene (Getty Images)Armand Duplantis in the pole vault at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

Reviewing the events of the previous hour and a half, he added:

“I didn’t jump that great today but it was just as important for me to learn about competing in these surroundings.

“Looking back to my second attempt at 5.84 – I wish I could have that back! But pole vault is a game of centimetres. It can go every way over one little thing like that. It has been a great experience, and finishing fourth is not the end of the world. I’ll try to bounce back next week in Tampere.”

One other competition will be occupying his attention before he gets to that runway, however – Sweden’s FIFA World Cup quarter-final against England on Saturday. “I’ll be watching, with my fingers crossed.”

The proximity of his next sporting venue means that he will be counting more family members than just his father in the stands. “All my family in Sweden will go – all my grandparents, and my cousin,” he said.

If he can stick to his one-bar-at-a-time plan, it is hard to see how he will avoid completing his junior gold medal collection. Beyond that – the sky is the limit.

Asked about what has already been a year of dizzying progression, he responded: “I’m 18 years old. I might jump higher than any other 18-year-old. I don’t know why I wouldn’t jump higher than when I was 17. It’s been good – and I know that there’s some good performance waiting in the future…”

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF