In part two of our series, former Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie, two-time world champion Sam Kendricks and three-time world championship medallist Piotr Lisek discuss the challenge of beating world record holder Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, as well as unveiling what it is that fuels their love of flinging themselves 6m-plus into the air…
Renaud, Sam, Piotr – what do you have to do to catch Mondo right now?
Renaud Lavillenie [RL]: Actually, I don’t know. I think that for now I am not jumping high enough to be able to pretend that I am able to beat him.
Sam Kendricks [SK]: The way you take down a titan; you start at his knees generally. In our sport, you have to find where he is mortal. Where does this demi-god status that he has come to a head? Right now, it looks like he is unbeatable. That is not a bad thing; I like to see that in sport. You can’t live there for ever – I know that for a fact. I don’t know how long he can press this out, but he makes it seem like you can believe in him, and that’s really cool.
There is a point between the world record and 6m that the competition will get staunch enough for him that he will start missing. It may not be 5.80m, it may not be 5.90, it may not even be 6m – he’s pretty lights-out at that already – but there may be a bar above 6m that he will actually start to have trouble with on a good day, and that’s where you win.
Piotr Lisek [PL]: It is very hard to match Mondo right now. As I said before, I know that I can do better than I have done so far. I will train even harder to improve the technical elements and, above all, my speed. But this does not guarantee success.
Renaud, what was it like watching Mondo jump 6.15m at the Diamond League meeting in Rome recently?
RL: In Rome it was crazy to see in that strange atmosphere, with no public, no crowds, but he was able to focus. His jump was just amazing. I was happy to be there.
And Sam, what was it like to jump over 6m in Lausanne earlier this year and still lose to Mondo?
SK: Jumping 6.02m makes me the highest-jumping loser in history. No one has ever jumped so high and lost. It’s almost apt for me to have that title in my logbook – the world’s greatest loser. I may never hold the world record, but I will be the guy who gave the world record holder the best run for his money. That is cool.
Mondo, do you like being the one out in front, the person these three are trying to knock over?
Mondo Duplantis [MD]: It is what it is right now; that’s the reality of the situation. Maybe in the past couple of years it was kind of more me chasing Sam, or chasing Piotr, or me and Piotr chasing Sam, and I guess now it’s kind of switched a little bit. There’s a bit more pressure now going into the meets, now that everybody expects me to win everything, especially when you have Sam who is capable of jumping 6m any day. It’s tougher mentally of course, but I think I have been able to handle it all right so far.
Is there a limit to how high any of you can jump?
RL: Yes, I would say there should be a limit, but we have no idea where [it is]. Mondo puts the bar higher and higher almost every time; he is showing his body is able to go very high. I think we can all agree to say that Mondo [will be] able to jump 6.20m in the next few competitions and the new few years, but to go over 6.25m, maybe 6.30m, is something different because we are not able to [add] 10cm at that height. But you never know, that is the beauty of the sport – nothing is written. We have to wait and see what happens. With guys like him, we can have some big surprises.
A limit is not something that necessarily prevents you from progressing; it tells you where you need to change something.Sam Kendricks
PL: Only Mondo knows where his limits are. Oh, I forgot, of course Uncle Reno [Lavillenie] also knows the smell of those heights. But it is hard to say the absolute limit. Currently, I think that the greatest limitation is in the head; the psyche of athletes, not their physicality.
MD: I try not to put a limit on myself. Who knows? There is always room to improve, no matter how high you jump. For me, I think the best is yet to come.
What is it that you all love about pole vaulting?
RL: I would say almost everything. First of all, because it is an individual event, I know every performance is just coming from myself and I am not counting on anybody else. And the fact is when you are on the track in an event, you know it just depends on you. You have to make the right choice at a good time. I like the precision. And one last thing, maybe the most important: it is fun.
SK: What I love has changed over the years. In the beginning it gave me a place, a purpose, a place on the team, and I was a contributor. I wasn’t great enough to do anything else and contribute, but I had this one thing. Then it became a way for me to press the boundaries, to understand how strong I could be. Nobody else could put that limit on me but myself. Now it has become a competitive environment you just can’t breed elsewhere. That’s what I love.
PL: I like the upward momentum the most, just like accelerating on a roller coaster.
MD: When I am jumping well and I have that technique on, I have that rhythm, it’s kind of easy. It’s not an easy event, and when things are hard it gets really, really hard – it seems like nothing can go right. It’s like a specific feeling and timing that you can get but you can also lose so quickly. So, when I do have that feeling and I am really comfortable on the runway, I feel like I can’t miss. I live for that.
To be continued in Part 3 - Away from the mat: Duplantis, Lavillenie, Kendricks and Lisek reveal all