World record-holder and Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie is yet to win a world title. His previous three attempts ended up with bronze medals, so can the in-form Frenchman break that trend in Beijing?
Lavillenie had his ups and downs this season. Coming off a brilliant victory at the European Indoor Championships, he looked ready to extend his domination into the summer. But a fall on the finish line of a 4x100m relay race sidelined Lavillenie for a few weeks in May with a shoulder injury. The comeback from it was victorious, as Lavillenie posted his best ever outdoor mark of 6.05m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
But he had a week to forget in July, losing at two IAAF Diamond League meetings in a row, Paris and Lausanne, due in part to his risky strategy of opening at later heights. Nevertheless, Lavillenie bounced back again and in his last competition before setting off for China, he cleared 6.03m.
Lavillenie is jumping higher than he did two and four years ago and seems poised to finally capture the elusive title. But the competition this year is as intense as ever, with four other athletes at the 5.90m level.
Defending champion Raphael Holzdeppe was out with a back injury for the best part of 2014, but the German has returned in time for this World Championships year and has already improved his personal best twice this season, vaulting 5.92m and 5.94m. He had a close battle with Lavillenie at the European Team Championships in Cheboksary, but lost on countback at 5.85m.
Canada’s Shawn Barber might be the busiest pole vaulter in the world this year with nine indoor and 16 outdoor appearances so far. He started his outdoor campaign in March with an impressive 5.90m, and hasn’t slowed down ever since.
Barber won the Pan American Games in Toronto with 5.80m, and just four days later set a personal best of 5.93m across the Atlantic in London. His last competition before Beijing involved three meetings in five days, two of which he won with respectable 5.83m clearances.
Thiago Braz was supposed to be Barber’s main rival at the Pan American Games, but the Brazilian couldn’t clear his opening height. Apart from that incident, Braz has been having his best season to date. He managed to add nine centimetres to his personal best, setting a South American record of 5.92m at an exhibition street vault competition in Baku.
Another athlete to watch out for is Konstadinos Filippidis of Greece. The world indoor champion seems to have found his groove as the season has unfolded with his best mark of 5.91m achieved in Paris in early July. Filippidis is one of his country’s biggest medal hopefuls, along with fellow pole vaulters Ekaterini Stefanidi and Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF