Renaud Lavillenie arrives at Monaco’s Herculis meeting in unfamiliar circumstances. Never before has the five-time Diamond Race winner been beaten at two IAAF Diamond League meetings in a row.
But speaking at the pre-event press conference on Thursday (16), the Olympic champion didn’t seem affected by his recent losses in Paris and Lausanne.
“I can lose; I’m human,” he said. “We are allowed to lose. That’s sport.
“This year is different to last year because the standard is a lot higher. Last year, I won in Paris with 5.70m. This year, I jumped 5.71m and I only finished fifth.
“I’m not worried about my performances. It’s not like I failed to clear a height. I can jump. Maybe in one month, we’ll forget about what happened because I’ll be jumping well again. And in 2016, who will remember that I lost in Paris and Lausanne?
“I cleared 5.85m at the French Championships, which shows I still have it,” added the world record-holder. “The most important thing was to take the win, which has given me more confidence for Monaco.
“I know my potential, so there are no worries on my part. My preparation for Beijing is still going well.”
So what better place to prove his form than a stadium in which he is undefeated, having won here in 2009, 2011 and 2013?
“I love this location and this stadium,” Lavillenie said of the Stade Louis II. “The French team usually has a training camp here every April. I wasn’t able to attend this year’s camp because I was injured at the time. But I’m looking forward to the competition.
“The meeting is held in the middle of July, which is a time of year when most athletes are in good shape. I’ve also never seen bad weather in Monaco, so it’s always easy to perform well in this stadium.”
Unfortunately, Lavillenie won’t be joined on the runway by younger brother Valentin, who broke his hand in training yesterday when his pole snapped.
“I was at the stadium yesterday when it happened,” said Lavillenie. “I feel really bad for him, but things like that happen. It happened to my hand three years ago and I was able to come back. We won’t be able to finish the season together, but he can come back for the next season.”
The pole vault won’t be the only exciting jumps competition in Monaco on Friday. World leader Pedro Pablo Pichardo and Olympic champion Christian Taylor will renew their rivalry in the triple jump.
“I believe I’m in great shape,” said Taylor. “Pichardo is always pushing me and he forces me to push my own limits. Before, I used to put barriers in place by telling myself that it would be great to jump 18 metres at a major championship. But whenever Pichardo jumps crazy, I want to respond.
“I believe I’m in wonderful shape and I want to put on a great show,” he added. “Why not both go over 18 metres again? If he’s ready to rock and roll, then let’s do it.”
Taylor said that when he jumped 18.06m to win in Lausanne, he knew it was a good jump right away.
“There’s a sweet spot on the board and you know when you hit it right,” he said. “But you never really know what the mark is. That’s why I stay calm and wait to celebrate until the numbers come up. To jump 18 metres is always a blessing. It’s an out-of-body experience.”
Just like the top high jumpers over the past couple of seasons, Taylor and Pichardo have quickly got used to replying to questions about the world record.
“I’ve always spoken about how much respect I have for distance,” Taylor said of the 18.29m mark set in 1995 by Jonathan Edwards. “The US record is 18.09m, so that’s the first hurdle I need to get over. But it’s very far.
“I think it will be one of those times when you don’t even think about the wind or the crowd; you just go and do it.”
Pichardo, meanwhile, seemed to adopt a different view.
“I will need all of the conditions to be perfect: the crowd, the wind; everything has to be there,” said the Cuban. “I will also have to be 100% fit and ready to do it. If everything is there, then maybe we can produce such a performance. But if not, then it’s not possible.”
Genzebe Dibaba is another athlete who feels capable of breaking a world record.
The Ethiopian has set numerous world records indoors, but now she wants to do the same outdoors. She came close to the 5000m mark in Paris, clocking 14:15.41. And after running an African record of 3:54.11 in Barcelona, she feels she can get closer to the world 1500m record of 3:50.46 on Friday in Monaco.
“Last week I ran 3:54 and it felt comfortable,” said the two-time world indoor champion. “Tomorrow I’m looking to run faster. I don’t know how much faster, but I’m going to go for it.
“I was very happy but I wasn’t surprised,” she added of her performance in Barcelona. “My coach knew that I was ready to run that fast.
“This year we’ve changed things and have done more intense training for the outdoor season. Now I think I can run faster outdoors than I previously thought I was capable of.
“I have totally changed my training. I already have natural speed which I don’t need to work on, so in training I’ve been working more on my endurance. I wanted to train more for the outdoor season than the indoor season.”
Dibaba is now undefeated this year and will head to the World Championships in Beijing as a gold medal favourite in whichever event she decides to contest. She may even double up.
“I haven’t yet made a final decision about whether to double up in Beijing,” she said. “I’ll speak to my coach after the race tomorrow and then we’ll decide what to do. If I had to pick one event, I would focus on the 5000m. My preparation has been geared more for that event, so physically and mentally I’m ready to run that event.”
French sprinter Jimmy Vicaut is also looking to double up in Beijing, but he still needs to achieve the 200m qualifying standard set by the French Athletics Federation (FFA).
“I was a bit frustrated with my 200m at the French Championships because my time was 0.04 outside the World Championships qualifying standard,” said Vicaut. “Maybe I should have dipped a bit more, but I was a bit tired by the time of the 200m final and I didn’t start strong enough. I was trying to catch Christophe (Lemaitre), but he is very strong in the last part of the race.”
For now, though, his primary focus is the 100m in Monaco, where he will face the three fastest US sprinters this year.
“It looks like a rehearsal for the World Championships,” said Vicaut, who equalled the European record of 9.86 when finishing second at the recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris. “To have (Tyson) Gay, (Justin) Gatlin and (Trayvon) Bromell in that race is pretty impressive.
“The conditions are always great. It’s better to run when it’s warm, like it always is in Monaco. If you look at the field, it’s incredible. There are four guys under 9.90, which is stronger than in Paris, so I have to be ready.
“I feel lucky this year,” added the 2013 European indoor champion. “Last year I was injured four times, but this year I have been able to race without too many problems.
“I have a time in mind that I’d like to run for 100m, but I’m not going to mention it until I achieve it.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF