Renaud Lavillenie at the 2016 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene (© Kirby Lee)
World record-holder Renaud Lavillenie will return to the Prefontaine Classic for a fifth time, and prime among his challengers at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene will be both Thiago Braz – who famously thwarted the Frenchman’s bid for a second Olympic gold in Rio – and Olympic bronze medallist Sam Kendricks of the US.
The Olympic podium rematch on 27 May highlights a field with every medallist from not only Rio but also last year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 and the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
Lavillenie kicks off drive for eighth Diamond Trophy
Lavillenie is a unique talent. Despite not winning a second Olympic gold, his 2016 season enhanced his reputation among the all-time great pole vaulters. He competed at 21 meetings and cleared 5.79m in 17 of them. He is the only athlete to have won his event's Diamond Race in each of the seven years of the IAAF Diamond League's existence.
Lavillenie is a favourite of Eugene’s knowledgeable fans, and the appreciation clearly has been mutual. He soared to 6.05m at the meeting's 2015 edition, the highest leap ever on US soil and the Frenchman's highest outdoor performance. Last year, donning a version of the hometown University of Oregon singlet, Lavillenie won his fourth straight Eugene title, matching Kory Tarppening, who won from 1988-91, as a four-time winner. Additionally, Lavillenie owns eight of the meeting's 5.80m clearances – no one else has more than three.
With his victory in Rio, Braz became the first Brazilian to strike Olympic gold in this sport since 1984, when Joaquim Cruz won the 800m in Los Angeles. Braz also became the youngest to win Olympic pole vault gold since Maksim Tarasov took the title in 1992 at 21.
Braz's most famous moment came last August, when a 6.03m clearance brought the Olympic Stadium in Rio to deafening delirium as he sealed his victory. His winning height was the highest by a jumper not named Lavillenie since 2009 when Australian Steve Hooker topped 6.06m indoors in Boston. This will be Braz's second appearance in Eugene; he was seventh on his debut in 2014.
US Olympic Trials winner Sam Kendricks took bronze in Rio, the first Olympic medal in the event for the US since 2004. It also made him the youngest US Olympic pole vault medallist since Jan Johnson took bronze in 1972 at 21. Kendricks also leapt to silver at last year’s World Indoor Championships and has won each national indoor and outdoor championship in which he has competed since his triumph at the 2014 outdoor championships.
Kendricks also could be Lavillenie’s Kryptonite – he has two IAAF Diamond League wins over the Frenchman plus a tie at last year's IAAF Diamond League final, the strongest challenge Lavillenie has seen in one year.
Considerable depth beyond Rio podium
Canadian Shawn Barber is the youngest in the field at 22 and is the world champion. His 2015 triumph in Beijing at 21 made him the youngest pole vault world champion since Sergey Bubka won the inaugural edition in 1983 at 19. Barber will celebrate his 23rd birthday on 27 May when he competes at the Prefontaine Classic.
The field also includes Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski and Piotr Lisek who shared bronze medals with Lavillenie at the 2015 World Championships. Wojciechowski won the 2011 world title in Daegu as a 22-year-old and the past two years enjoyed his best vaulting since the 2011 season. Lisek meanwhile is currently the hottest vaulter on the planet, joining the elite six-metre club after his 6.00m clearance in Potsdam last weekend.
Others on the slate include 2014 world indoor champion Konstantinos Filippidis of Greece and Czech record-holder and 2014 world indoor bronze medallist Jan Kudlicka.
Organisers for the IAAF
2017 IAAF Diamond League calendar
5 May – Doha, QAT
13 May – Shanghai, CHN
27 May – Eugene, USA
8 Jun – Rome, ITA
15 Jun – Oslo, NOR
18 Jun – Stockholm, SWE
1 Jul – Paris, FRA
6 Jul – Lausanne, SUI
9 Jul – London, GBR
16 Jul – Rabat, MAR
21 Jul – Monaco, MON
20 Aug – Birmingham, GBR
24 Aug – Zurich, SUI
1 Sep – Brussels, BEL