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Feature23 Apr 2024

Duplantis recalls his first Olympic memory, Lavillenie’s 2012 triumph


Mondo Duplantis and Renaud Lavillenie (© AFP / Getty Images)

For the past seven years, Mondo Duplantis and Renaud Lavillenie have been adversaries on the pole vault runway.

Back when their rivalry started, Lavillenie was the world record-holder and had multiple global medals to his name. Duplantis, meanwhile, was a vaulter on the rise but, at age 17, had limited international experience.

In fact, the young Swede was still so new to the sport, it was just five years prior to his first clash with the great French vaulter that Duplantis recalls watching the Olympic Games for the first time. And his standout memory from those 2012 Games? Lavillenie’s pole vault victory.

Having failed at his opening attempt at 5.91m, which Germany’s Bjorn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe cleared first time, Lavillenie passed to an Olympic record height of 5.97m and went over on his second and final attempt for what proved to be the winning jump.

“I grew up in the Usain Bolt era, of Beijing 2008 and London 2012,” recalled Duplantis. “I remember watching the Games in London in 2012 when Renaud took the title. And I think he was at 5.97m on his last attempt, and that lifted him from third place to first, with an Olympic record.

“Basically he needed to make it to win, and if he didn’t make it, he’d get third place.

“Seeing that performance was the big one for me. Because in 2012 I was 12, 13 and at the peak of my fandom for Renaud. So I was rooting for him more than I would cheer for anybody. Just to see him close the deal and win the biggest title that you can win – that was super-inspiring.

“It was definitely like an ‘at that moment’ kind of feeling.”

Less than eight years after Lavillenie's 2012 Olympic victory, Duplantis broke the Frenchman's world record with a 6.17m vault in Torun. Last weekend in Xiamen, Duplantis set the eighth world record of his career, vaulting 6.24m at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Xiamen.

Asked about any other Olympic memories that stood out, the 24-year-old Olympic champion added: “Bolt for sure. And David Rudisha running his 1.41 800m in London. I remember watching that and not having a full grasp of how fast it was until it was like in middle school watching how people ran the 400m and thinking of him doing that two times in a row.

“That would be one of the more crazy things that I’ve seen. And I remember it being hard for me to wrap my head around that one, because I never really tried any track events when I was younger. I really was just mostly a pole vaulter, because the US doesn’t have the same club system that they do in Sweden where you try out a bunch of events.

“I pole-vaulted mostly in my back yard until I was around 15 years old before I started jumping at the high school and being on the track and stuff. I would always make sure to watch the pole vault competitions (during televised major championships) because I think pole vaulting is kind of its own thing in a way.”

With 100 days to go until athletics starts at the Paris 2024 Games, Duplantis – and, indeed, 37-year-old Lavillenie, who is aiming to represent the host nation in what will be his fourth Olympics – hope to create some more Olympic memories of their own. And there’s every chance that their performance in the French capital could inspire the next great pole vaulter.

Mike Rowbottom for World Athletics

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