For all his dominance, it had been almost four years since France’s Renaud Lavillenie last won a global championship title, but the world record holder re-asserted his superiority in supreme fashion on the first day of the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016, setting a championship record of 6.02m to take gold.
American Sam Kendricks took the silver medal with a best of 5.80m, while Poland’s Piotr Lisek took third with 5.75m.
Lavillenie made his confidence known long before he took to the runway at a packed Oregon Convention Center on Thursday night, sitting out several early rounds – during which he paced the arena for the best part of two hours – and entering the competition at 5.75m.
It was a height he soared over with room to spare, which launched him immediately to the head of the standings, but he was briefly usurped at the next height, 5.80m, with US champion Sam Kendricks making a perfect clearance to the delight of the home crowd.
Rather than attempt to reclaim the lead, though, Lavillenie passed at 5.80m and 5.85m, re-entering at 5.90m. Meanwhile the leading contenders began to fall by the wayside, with Jan Kudlicka of the Czech Republic bowing out after three failures at 5.80m, his third-time clearance at 5.75m only good enough for fourth. He shared that position with world champion Shawn Barber, who had a below-par night, requiring three attempts to clear both 5.65m and 5.75m.
That was also the best Lisek could manage, but because Lisek cleared 5.75m on his first attempt, he took the bronze medal on countback after failing twice at 5.80m and once at 5.85m.
With only one competitor left in his way, Lavillenie took to the runway once again at 5.90m, sprinting down the track and not so much as brushing the bar as he sailed over with ease. Kendricks tried to respond in kind, but in truth, neither of his two remaining attempts at 5.90m came close, and Lavillenie was crowned world indoor champion for the second time in his career.
“My only aim is to be competitive, and jumping with a guy like Renaud you know he’s going to be immaculate,” said Kendricks.
That’s exactly what Lavillenie was at his next height, sling-shotting himself over 6.02m to break Steve Hooker’s championship record of 6.01m and bringing several thousand fans in the arena to their feet.
Minutes later, a rush of excitement spread through the crowd again as it was announced Lavillenie had moved the bar up to a world record height of 6.17m, and legions of fans clapped along and stomped their feet as he took his first attempt at breaking his own mark.
It wasn’t close, but Lavillenie rested, recovered and came again. On his second attempt, he fell into the bar while attempting to clear it and came crashing to the track, giving fans a thumbs up upon landing to signify no damage had been done. "I was a bit afraid, but I was able to manage it and fall safely," he said. "Pole vault is sometimes very dangerous and intense, but that’s why we love it."
Midway through his third and final attempt, he accepted the world record would have to wait for another day, and the new champion landed cautiously to the congratulations of an appreciative crowd.
"I’m happy to take the win and to get another six-metre jump," he said. "I have plenty of time to get the world record."
Back in 2012, Lavillenie took the world indoor title in Istanbul months before winning Olympic gold in London, and on the evidence presented in Portland, he appears well on course for a repeat performance later this year in Rio de Janeiro.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF