Sam Kendricks in the pole vault at the IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)
For once, Renaud Lavillenie does not enter the pole vault competition at the IAAF World Championships burdened by the expectation of claiming the one major honour that happens to be conspicuously absent from his CV.
Indeed, such has been the downturn in fortunes of the world record-holder since the dramatic night on which he lost his Olympic crown to Brazilian Thiago Braz in Rio last year, the 30-year-old Frenchman returns to the scene of his 2012 Olympic victory as an outsider in the battle for gold.
Unable to start training until May because of a foot injury, Lavillenie has been short of confidence and form, failing to register a win in five appearances on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, finishing down in fifth on his last outing in Monaco on 21 July.
The man who holds the world record at 6.16m does stand fourth in the 2017 outdoor list, courtesy of a 5.87m clearance in Lausanne, but in that IAAF Diamond League fixture he finished third behind two significantly smoother operators in US Olympic silver medallist Sam Kendricks and Poland’s 2011 world champion Pawel Wojciechowski.
Kendricks prevailed on count back that evening (he and Wojciechowski both clearing 5.93m) and the 24-year-old second lieutenant in the US Army Reserve will start as the man to beat in London. Kendricks is unbeaten thus far in 2017, after nine competitions outdoors and one indoors. His last defeat dates back to 3 September 2016, when he finished third at the ISTAF meeting in Berlin.
Competing at his national championships in Sacramento in June, Kendricks became the fourth US vaulter to crack the six-metre barrier, following in the flight-paths of Brad Walker (6.04m), Jeff Hartwig (6.03m), Tim Mack (6.01m) and Toby Stevenson (6.00m) with a 6.00m success.
Not that the man from Oxford, Mississippi, is the only vaulter to have joined the expanding (now 22-member) all-time six-metre club this year. Piotr Lisek cleared 6.00m indoors in Potsdam in February and the Pole who proceeded to take the European indoor title in Belgrade appears to be peaking to perfection in the outdoor season, vaulting 5.82m to win the most recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco and 5.85m to claim the Polish title.
On form, the battle for gold in London would appear to be between the imperious Kendricks and not one but two Poles. Wojciechowski, dogged by injury since his surprise 2011 IAAF World Championship triumph, has the second best outdoor performance of the year (his 5.93m from Lausanne) and won at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat with 5.85m.
While Olympic champion Braz will be absent, defending champion Shawn Barber of Canada and 17-year-old Swede Armand Duplantis could feature prominently. Duplantis vaulted a world U20 record of 5.90m in Austin, Texas, in April and won the European U20 title with a championship record of 5.65m in Grosseto on 23 July.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF