Renaud Lavillenie in action in the Ultimate Garden Challenge (© WA)
France’s 2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie and Sweden’s world record-holder Mondo Duplantis shared the honours in the inaugural Ultimate Garden Clash – Pole Vault Edition on Sunday (3), beating arch-rival Sam Kendricks in a unique three-way competition.
The contest, devised by the three pole vaulters, was a race to see who could produce the most 5.00m vaults within a 30-minute period, all from the comfort and safety of their own back gardens. Lavillenie was vaulting from his home in Clermont-Ferrand, Kendricks was competing from his back garden in Oxford, Mississippi, and Duplantis was taking part from his base in Lafayette, Louisiana.
World record-holder Duplantis took an early lead and Lavillenie was not far off the young Swede’s pace. Two-time world champion Kendricks, meanwhile, tried to pace himself from the outset and trailed his opponents in the first half.
Despite an aborted attempt, Duplantis was the first to reach double figures and he had tallied 18 five-metre vaults by the half-way mark. Lavillenie was just one shy of that total with 17 while Kendricks had amassed 12.
In the second half, Duplantis and Lavillenie continued to vault at a similar pace. Duplantis had notched up 25 clearances with 10 minutes remaining while Lavillenie trailed by just one. Kendricks tried to increase his rate of vaulting but had left himself with too much catching up to do.
After a missed attempt from Duplantis, Lavillenie took the lead with two minutes to go as he sailed over his 32nd clearance. His young opponent soon matched that, but Lavillenie kept up his relentless tempo.
By the end of the contest, Lavillenie and Duplantis had each successfully cleared a total of 36 five-metre vaults, beating Kendricks’ tally of 26. Following a brief discussion between the top two, they decided to share the victory.
“I’m done, I don’t want to take any risks,” said Lavillenie. “I’ll share the gold with Mondo.
“I was really missing the feeling I get competing. It’s crazy but even doing this in my garden, I get the same feeling I’d get at a major championships. It was very exciting and I’m very happy to be a part of it. I'm not going to do it every week, but I'm happy to do it once a year.”
Although he was prepared to continue competing for another three minutes to split the tie, Duplantis was happy to share the victory with his predecessor as world record-holder.
“It was really fun being out there competing against those guys,” said Duplantis. “I had really missed competing. I didn’t think it was going to end in a tie, but that’s sports!”
Kendricks, meanwhile, felt that the outcome may have been different had they been targeting higher heights.
“If the bar had been at 5.40m, maybe it would have been a different story,” said Kendricks, the only vaulter who didn’t record any failures. “Preparing for this was honestly my best training of the whole spring.”
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe was one of the thousands of fans who tuned in to watch the contest.
"I am so proud of these three talented athletes," said Coe. "This is a brilliant initiative, great fun and really innovative. My thanks go to them, their families and the World Athletics team for bringing live athletics back during lockdown. I hope we can bring a few more events like this to bring to all athletics fans out there. Thank you to all of them and all our athletes staying home and training hard, for watching”
World Athletics is exploring the possibility of holding other Ultimate Garden Clash competitions in the coming weeks.