Renaud Lavillenie ahead of the 2014 World Athletics Gala (© Giancarlo Colombo / IAAF)
Renaud Lavillenie is hoping for the perfect end to his ‘perfect year’ at the 2014 World Athletics Gala in Monaco on Friday (21), where he is one of three athletes short-listed for the men’s Athlete of the Year award.
The French pole vaulter made global headlines when he broke Sergey Bubka’s 21-year-old world record in Donetsk in February, and he went on to claim his third European title in August, win his fifth Diamond Race in a row, take victory at the IAAF Continental Cup and amass 21 wins from 22 competitions throughout the year.
“Yes, it has been the perfect year because I’ve done everything I wanted to do,” agreed the 28-year-old when he faced the press on Thursday.
“In fact, I’ve done more than I wanted. The indoor season was just amazing, of course. But the outdoors was very difficult because there were a lot of expectations and the conditions were very difficult. To be able to win was a big challenge and I’m very proud to win 21 of my 22 competitions.
“And now I am very proud to be one of the three short-listed for the Athlete of the Year trophy. I hope my chances are pretty good. We’ll see.”
If Lavillenie wins tomorrow, he will be the first male field event exponent since Czech javelin legend Jan Zelezny in 2000, and the first male jumper since Great Britain’s triple jump world record-holder Jonathan Edwards in 1995.
“This is really good for the sport because it shows there is something else other than sprints and long-distance running,” he said.
“When people come to the stadium, they come to see long jump, throws and everything, but the fact is that most of the time it is sprinters or long distance they come to see. So it is very good for us, and for my event also.
“I hope people will be inspired by what I did this year, and come to join my pole vault family.”
As for the world record, Lavillenie admitted he hadn’t expected to break it this year.
“The record had been there a long time, but it wasn’t expected,” he said. “It was a surprise to me.
“I knew I was able to jump that high, but I wasn’t seeking it this year. I was more focused on breaking it in 2015 or 2016, so it came faster than I planned. But this is the beauty of the sport; you never know what’s going to happen.”
Since then, his life has changed greatly. He has become a celebrity, getting invitations to glamorous awards ceremonies such as the GQ magazine Man of the Year celebrations.
“This is new for me, because it is the first time I’ve had invitations to things like that,” said Lavillenie. “But I am very happy about it because it shows the sport is doing well.”
If there has been one downside to the year for the high-flying pole vaulter, it’s the fate of the city where he broke the record – Donetsk – and the Druzhba Arena, home of the famous All-Stars meeting, which was destroyed by fire in May.
“We athletes get attached to places where we perform well,” he admitted.
“For my part, what I felt about Donetsk this winter I compare to what happened in London in 2012. I won the Olympics there and when I went back the following year I could feel the same emotions and atmosphere, and I performed well again.
“So it’s very unfortunate what happened in Donetsk and when you see the state of the stadium there, I know it’s going to be a long time before I can go back to compete. But this is part of sport and part of life. It’s unfortunate, but this is how it is.”
After such a good year, some athletes may find it difficult to raise their motivation again for the new season, but not Lavillenie.
“Not at all,” he said. “I love what I do, I love my sport. I enjoy every single day, and I am extremely competitive.
“And one thing I haven’t won is the World Championships, so that still carries me forward. I have an opportunity next year.
“But then if I win one I want to win two, and if I win two I want three. I have three European titles and I now want four.
“I want my trophy cabinet at home to be the biggest one of all. To do this would be so difficult if I didn’t love the sport. I am so lucky to have found a sport that I love and this is the core of my motivation.”
In 24 hours’ time, Lavillenie may well have one more trophy to place in that cabinet.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF