Renaud Lavillenie of France celebrates an attempt during the Men's Pole Vault Final of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 10, 2012 (© Getty Images)
Renaud Lavillenie is seeking to become the first man since US vaulter Bob Richards 60 years ago to successfully defend an Olympic men’s pole vault title.
The French vaulter extraordinaire has enjoyed another outstanding year, producing a series of six-metre clearances indoors and grabbing gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 to claim a second world indoor title.
While not yet leaping beyond the magic six-metre barrier outdoors this year, seven victories from nine competitions, including four in the IAAF Diamond League, show that the 29-year-old is in ominously good form.
However, Lavillenie received a sharp reminder last month that there can be no room for complacency as he failed to clear his opening height of 5.75m at the European Championships to end his ambition of a fourth successive European title.
Lying in wait to capitalise on any mistakes will be world champion Shawn Barber, who is bidding to become Canada’s first Olympic pole vault medallist since 1908.
Barber cleared six metres for the first time during the indoor season but has not been able to replicate that during a solid rather than spectacular outdoor campaign.
Nevertheless, an outdoor season’s best of 5.91m proves the flame-haired 22-year-old should still be a major player at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
USA has struck gold on a remarkable 17 previous occasions at the Olympics and aiming to build on that legacy is national champion Sam Kendricks.
After taking world indoor silver behind Lavillenie in Portland, Kendricks has continued to impress and set a personal best of 5.92m at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Beijing, as well as recording a first and second place at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Shanghai and London respectively.
Local hopes focus on Braz
Brazil has few genuine medal chances in Rio, but the men’s pole vault could provide some cheer.
Former world U20 champion Thiago Braz has posted both indoor and outdoor personal bests of 5.93m and 5.90m this year and the 22-year-old will not be lacking in motivation or support in front of a passionate home crowd.
Having won three medals from the past three global outdoor championships – bronze at the last Olympics in London four years ago as well as gold and silver at the past two editions of the World Championships – it would be unwise to rule out Raphael Holzdeppe from any medal considerations.
The German injured ankle ligaments back at his national indoor championships and has only competed three times this outdoor season, but a 5.70m clearance in his final pre-Rio outing showed that he is on his way to returning to his best.
Joining Holzdeppe on the German team are national champion Tobias Scherbarth and Karsten Dilla.
Poland has entered a powerful triumvirate of vaulters led by 2011 world champion Pawel Wojciechowski who, on his day, has the class to mount a strong threat.
His countryman Piotr Lisek also knows how to navigate his way to the podium, having grabbed bronze medals at the World Championships outdoors last year and indoors this year. The Polish challenge is completed by Robert Sobera, who capitalised on Lavillenie’s meltdown to get a surprise gold at the European Championships last month.
Watch out too for Jan Kudlicka, who this season equalled his Czech record of 5.83m in Prague and got a European silver medal in Amsterdam.
Expect some lusty roars from the crowd for Brazil’s second-string vaulter Augusto Dutra and keep an eye on China's 2014 Asian Games champion Xue Changrui, Greece's 2014 world indoor champion Konstadinos Filippidis and France's 2014 European bronze medallist Kevin Menaldo.
Steve Landells for the IAAF