Armand Duplantis at the pre-meet press conference in Rome (© Chris Cooper)
Karsten Warholm and Mondo Duplantis have created their own support group to deal with the growing expectations around them as they move ever closer to world records in their respective events.
Norwegian Warholm, who stands just 0.09 short of Kevin Young’s 28-year-old world record in the 400m hurdles, revealed at the press conference before tomorrow’s Wanda Diamond League meeting in Rome that he and Sweden’s Duplantis had agreed that the best approach for now was not to focus on the world record.
“The thing is, we’re in a very interesting situation,’’ Warholm said.
“I spoke to Mondo in Berlin (at the ISTAF meeting last Sunday) and we are in a situation where we are going really fast and jumping very high and people are disappointed. I am three-tenths from the world record, he jumps a few centimetres off the world record and people are asking if we are disappointed.
“We are in a situation where we can talk about these records and it’s great, but for us, at least for me, I have to keep my focus on doing the best I can and getting my potential out. That’s what it’s all about. I am considering less and less about the record because I know that if I chase it, I probably won’t get it.”
World pole vault record-holder Duplantis, who has regularly attempted a world outdoor best of 6.15m this season, agreed that the constant speculation around world records was not helping.
“Everybody expects these things out of us and pressure is put on us at each meet, but I have been competing against a lot of great guys, the best in the world at pretty much all the meets that I’ve been at, so going into each one I try not to underestimate them.
“The first goal, and pretty much the only goal, is to go out there and try to win. Of course, I’m going to try to do the best that I can do and I’m going to try to jump as high as I can jump. The shape is coming along nicely and those high bars are getting easier and easier so it should be good tomorrow.”
Lavillienie an inspiration, says Duplantis
Among the athletes waiting for Duplantis tomorrow is his predecessor as world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie. The 20-year-old Swede paid tribute to the veteran Frenchman when he was asked to compare himself to the two previous world-record-holders, Lavillenie and Sergey Bubka.
“We are just three very different athletes in general," Duplantis said.
“Bubka was Bubka. He was ahead of his time and he revolutionised the sport. He was so fast and so strong that it seemed like that the only way to jump high was to be this freak athlete like he was, and then Renaud came along and proved a lot of people wrong just being a small Frenchman.
“It was quite inspiring for me when I was 14 years old and he broke the record. I don’t know if you have seen my father but I didn’t know how tall I was going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to be that tall or fast and to see something like that from Renaud, it gives you hope that you can jump high even if you are not that tall, you are not the fastest, not the strongest. It’s just a really technical event like that.
“It’s a cool event because there’s so many ways to skin a cat. I try to do it my own way, the way that suits me, and hopefully I can give some inspiration to some other young kids like those two did for me.”
On the origins of Warholm’s pre-race roar
Warholm’s idiosyncratic mental preparation before races has also become a topic of conversation.
Before each race he lets out a Viking roar after slapping himself in the face and around the body.
He revealed it was a habit that he developed in training to psych himself up when there is no crowd to excite him, and it has served him well at pandemic-affected meetings this season, where crowds have been small or absent due to local health regulations.
“It’s just to get my adrenalin going, to get in the right mood,’’ he said.
“I am getting a little bit embarrassed, looking at it afterwards, that’s why I never watch my races. But I do it because it works.”
Thompson-Herah fit and healthy, Muir targeting world lead
The Rome meeting will see the season debut for Olympic 100m and 200m champion Elaine Thompson-Herah in international company after she showed her best form since the Rio Olympics in domestic competition in Jamaica.
Thompson-Herah said visa issues had delayed her arrival in Europe but she was eager to see what she could do in the 100m tomorrow after overcoming a run of injuries in recent years.
“For the last three years I haven’t been in my best shape because of injuries but so far this year has been really good so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow," she said.
European 1500m champion Laura Muir said Norway’s Hedda Hynne had given her a target to aim for in the 800m in Rome after the Norwegian set a world-leading time of 1:58.10 in Bellinzona, Switzerland last night.
“Last year I did a very fast time and I love this stadium," she said.
Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics