Shawn Barber after winning the pole vault at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)
The world record holder Renaud Lavillenie embarked on his fourth quest for what has become an elusive world title on Monday. However, his quest for the gold medal was interrupted by the new name in the game or, at last, one that has only emerged this year.
Lavillenie was probably feeling a weight of expectations, his own ones and his fans’, on his shoulders tonight.
Within the last six years, since first going over six metres in 2009, the Frenchman has won a total of seven European titles, indoors and out, a world indoor title and captured the London 2012 Olympic Games gold medal.
To add to this impressive list, he broke the world record, jumping 6.16m indoors in February last year.
However, at the world championships, invariably competing as the favourite, he is still coming just short.
Lavillenie won the bronze in Berlin in 2009 and again four years ago in Daegu; while at the previous edition of the world championships in Moscow, he was second.
On this warm night in Beijing, the Frenchman, once again, was the prohibitive favourite, leading the 2015 world list with 6.05m.
But, besides the fears and expectations prying on his mind, Lavillenie had to face athletes, who defeated him on last two occasions: Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe and Poland’s 2011 world champion Pawel Wojcechowski, who were both in top shape.
At the first two heights, the competition lost a total of four athletes. Russia’s Ivan Gertlein, after setting a personal best of 5.70m in the qualification, couldn’t clear his opening 5.50m.
Czech Republic’s Jan Kudlicka, Slovenia’s Robert Renner and Poland’s Robert Sobera bowed out with three failures at 5.65m.
Six more men failed to get over the next height of 5.80m, the height Lavillenie was opening at, and his clearance was as spectacular as it gets, with at least 30cm to spare.
The Polish pair of Wojcechowski and Piotr Lisek immediately joined Lavillenie in the lead, as did the youngest man in the field, the 21-year-old Canadian Shawn Barber, who came to Beijing after an extremely busy and successful season.
With collegiate competitions, his first IAAF Diamond League appearance and a victorious Pan American Games on home soil, Barber accumulated a total of 16 competitions during his outdoor campaign, more than anyone else in the field.
Busy Barber cuts opponents down to size
However, instead of wiping him out, this busy schedule seemed to give him confidence and composure.
Barber is no stranger to serious heights, as well, with the season’s best and Canadian record of 5.93m, and with his first-time clearance at 5.80m he stated himself as a serious threat.
Adding to this quartet, the defending champion Holzdeppe knocked the bar down with his first try at 5.80m, but his second attempt was successful, even though he stroked the bar with his chest.
France’s Kevin Menaldo also cleared 5.80m at the third time of asking.
At 5.90m, the only athlete to go over the bar with his first try was the Canadian. For everyone else, this height was a struggle.
Lavillenie kept flying high enough, but had problems with the timing. The bar came down three times, and the devastated Lavillenie had to wave goodbye to the crowd, once again settling for something other than the victory.
Wojciechowski, Lisek and Menaldo had no luck at 5.90m either, while Holzdeppe cleared the bar in his third attempt.
The crowd was waiting for a spectacular duel between Barber and the defending champion at 6.00m, but it didn’t happen. In all three attempts, the two survivors hardly managed to bend their poles.
Up to the winning height of 5.90m, Barber had a clean sheet so Holzdeppe, with one failure at 5.65m and two at 5.80m, lost on countback.
Lavillenie and two Polish athletes, Lisek and Wojciechowski, had an identical record throughout the final, so these three athletes – for the first time in the history of the world championships – shared the bronze with 5.80m.
The disheartened Frenchman didn’t even join his fellow medallists for a lap of honor, many of supporters shown on the stadium screens with their heads in their hands, while the elated Barber was celebrating the first ever world championships medal for Canada in the pole vault.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF