After discussing the records, sharing the secrets of their success and setting out their plans for Tokyo 2020 in the first two parts of the series, the quartet currently bestriding the world of men’s pole vaulting took on the real issues of the day, including deciding who the poker king is and discovering which of them builds saunas in his spare time…
What one pole vaulting skill would you like to take from each of the others sitting around this virtual table?
Armand “Mondo” Duplantis [MD]: From Lisek I’ll take [his] strength. He’s an insanely strong guy in every aspect of the jump. I want his strength. I want Sam’s endurance… Sam jumps at every bar. He can jump all day. He can make 20 jumps in a competition and his 20th jump is going to be his best of the day. He can just jump forever. And Renaud’s experience.
That would mash up pretty perfectly.
Renaud Lavillenie [RL]: I will take Mondo’s speed. I will take the power of Piotr and I will take from Sam the fact that he is able to take all the energy of the pole better than anyone. If I could take all these three things, it would be a very good combo.
Sam Kendricks [SK]: I actually thought about this the other day. Without getting too technical, Piotr Lisek is willing to go where most guys never go. He’s such a good competitor because he’s just trying to get it done. There is no huge flourish to how he does it, there is no big magic secret; he’s just visceral and raw. He doesn’t care about the art of the sport; he just cares about getting it done, and he’s so spectacular about that. I have learned how to take the fluff and pomp out of the sport watching him.
With Renaud, the way he sees the competition; he’s done it for over a decade. He can see things about the game that other guys don’t see coming. Birmingham 2018 – I can tell you a great story [about] how he bested me before the final jumps. It was cool; I learned a lot about gamesmanship from him.
The way Mondo fully commits to everything he does on the pole, down the runway, it’s almost instinctual. It’s great. I’ve learned it over the years, but the way he does it is awe-worthy. It’s not easy to throw every bit of your being into a jump. It’s a cool way to go about the sport.
Piotr Lisek [PL]: It is the speed they have. The speed and the technique to handle this speed at take-off.
Who would win at poker between you?
MD: I like my odds. I [have] actually played quite a bit of cards. When I was in high school, I used to host a lot of little poker games, just for fun, with me and friends. We would play cards all the time. When it comes to cards, I like my odds. But I wouldn’t underestimate Sam or Renaud.
RL: It’s a good question. I have no idea. Maybe we will have to try it. It will depend how lucky you are with the cards. I will say that Sam will not be the winner. I don’t know why, but I don’t see him winning.
SK: In pole vaulting, we say you have as many chips as you have bars. Mondo is going to think he’s going to win poker, but the last time we played, I won. Maybe in the long game that is a good metric. I have never played against Renaud before, but I have been bested many times with a good poker face by Renaud, so I might put my money on him, honestly.
PL: Of course me.
Renaud is a highly talented motorcyclist who has competed at elite level, twice participating in the Le Mans 24 Heures Motos. What else apart from pole vaulting do you three excel in?
MD: I have really picked up golf as of late. When the whole pandemic thing started in March and I didn’t really know what was going to happen, me and my brothers were in town together for the first time in a while, and we started to pick up golf. I had never really played. We just started playing like maniacs. We played all the time, almost every day.
SK: The thing I am really good at is being bad at most things. That shapes who I am. I am always trying to get better at just about everything I do. [But] my family will tell you that in most things I am decent, half-way decent at least.
PL: I do almost all water sports and feel great in nature. And working with wood is my passion. Recently I made a sauna for four people on my own. I only bought a stove and a glass door; the rest was my work.
What message do you have for the other three?
MD: Let’s keep doing what we are doing. We are having a great time out there, we are putting on shows, we are making the sport more popular. Keep doing what we are doing, keep having fun with this thing.
RL: The first message I would like to say is take some rest and then get ready for the next All Star Perche [an annual indoor meeting] because the next one is a meeting I am organising in February. It will be crazy enough for everyone, and I would love to be all together and to jump 6m before Tokyo.
SK: My house is always open. I am finishing my guest rooms right now, and the training hall is ready. If you are ever in the States, you’d better come and stay with me.