Raising the bar for France
The 2012 Olympic pole vault champion, Renaud Lavillenie took the sport to new heights in eclipsing Sergei Bubka’s longstanding world record with a jump of 6.16m in Donetsk (UKR) in February 2014.
Not enough for Beijing
Renaud Lavillenie was introduced to the pole vault at an early age by his father, himself a pole vaulter, and immediately fell in love with the discipline, though his relatively small frame prevented him from making the most of his potential during the early part of his career.
It was not until he turned 21 and first came under the wing of his inspirational coach Damien Inocencio at the Stade Jean-Pellez d’Aubiere in Clermont-Ferrand in June 2008 that he began to come into his own. However, the improvements he made did not come soon enough for him to reach the Beijing Games in 2008. “I was clearing 5.30m in 2007 and I wasn’t even thinking of pursuing an international career,” he explains. “But when I went to Clermont the following year, I had access to facilities that helped me take a big step forward. I reached 5.70m, though it was still 5cm short of the Olympic qualifying standard.”
The master of all he surveys
Lavillenie jumped 5.81m to claim his maiden international title at the European Indoor Championships in Turin in March 2009, and followed up three months later by joining the select band of pole vaulters to clear six metres, posting a new French record of 6.01m in Leiria (POR).
In the process the Frenchman had become the world’s leading pole vaulter and his country’s main medal chance at major championships. “I’d rather jump 5.90-5.95m across a season and be on the podium the whole time than just have one great result,” he said, explaining the importance of consistent performances, which have come most notably in the shape of four consecutive overall IAAF Diamond League wins since 2010.
Gold in London
By the time the London 2012 pole vault final came around, Lavillenie found himself fighting it out for gold with German duo Bjorn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe, who both cleared 5.91m, a height at which the Frenchman failed with his first attempt. He then took a gamble, raising the bar to 5.97m for his final two attempts only to fail with the first of them.
Left with just one more chance to overhaul his rivals, Lavillenie hurtled down the runway, launched himself skywards and cleared the bar with plenty to spare to claim gold with a new Olympic record. In doing so he became France’s first gold medallist at the Games since Marie-Jose Perec won the 200m and 400m titles and Jean Galfione the pole vault crown at Atlanta 1996.
Lavillenie then shook track and field to its core in February 2014, while the eyes of the world were focused on the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Accepting his customary annual invitation to the Pole Vault Stars event founded and organised by Sergei Bubka in his home city of Donetsk, the Frenchman trumped the world record of 6.15m set by the great Ukrainian in February 1993 at the very same venue, a height deemed to be unreachable. After clearing 6.01m at the third attempt, and with Bubka looking on, the reigning Olympic champion then jumped 6.16m at the very first time of asking, yet another crowning achievement in his stellar career.
Success with a smile
Explaining the secret of his success, the motorbike-loving Lavillenie says: “I never feel pressure when I’m down on the track. I enjoy myself out there and I don’t feel pressurised in any way. Over the last five years I’ve been on podium after podium and I haven’t felt restricted at all. Sometimes I’m there, 48 hours before a competition, putting tiles up in my bathroom, going out on my motorbike, playing football or basketball, and winning. I don’t like to do things that hold me back. There’s no miracle about it. The most important thing is to be as fresh as possible because the better you feel inside, the more you smile inside and the more success you have.”