At one point during Athletissima’s exhibition city centre pole vault competition, it seemed as though the duel between Mondo Duplantis and Sam Kendricks would never end. Both men simply went higher and higher, clearing each height with ease on their first attempts at the Wanda Diamond League meeting at Lausanne’s Place de l’Europe on Wednesday (2).
Eventually, though, the only obstacle standing in their way appeared to be the lack of light. The sun set on the Swiss city at about the time the bar moved up past six metres. And although Duplantis ultimately prevailed with a first-time clearance at 6.07m, having seen Kendricks bow out with a best of 6.02m, once the young Swede took an attempt at 6.15m, he knew it would be futile to continue.
After all, the 20-year-old – who cleared a world record of 6.18m earlier this year – has plenty of time in which to go higher.
Tonight’s competition was less about records and more about a fascinating duel between the world’s two best vaulters of their generation.
Kendricks, the two-time world champion, opened at the lower height of 5.32m, while Duplantis entered at 5.62m – a height at which Kendricks registered a failure before clearing successfully. Duplantis passed the next two bars, but Kendricks started to churn out first-attempt clearances, one after the other.
Thiago Braz and Renaud Lavillenie, the 2016 and 2012 Olympic champions respectively, both got over 5.72m but exited the competition with three misses at 5.82m, leaving Duplantis and Kendricks as the sole competitors.
And so began their game of ‘anything you can do…’ Just moments after Kendricks sailed over 5.87m on his first try, Duplantis did likewise, albeit with a seemingly larger margin. The same happened at 5.92m and 5.97m.
The bar then moved to 6.02m – a Swiss all-comers’ record – and, astonishingly, both men once again got over it with their first vault. Kendricks nudged the bar slightly but it stayed on, while Duplantis cleared it with room to spare. It’s the first time in history that two men have cleared 6.02m in the same competition.
Following seven successive first-attempt clearances, Kendricks recorded just his second foul of the competition with the bar at 6.07m. Duplantis, however, was successful once more, breaking the Diamond League record and his own outdoor Swedish record in the process.
With darkness setting in, Kendricks registered two more misses to finally bow out of the contest. The bar was then raised to 6.15m while the competition organisers tried to find some makeshift method of getting more light on to the runway. They managed to light the end of the runway and Duplantis took one try but aborted it soon after planting his pole, his first failure of the evening.
Realising that tonight wasn’t a night for world records, he stood up from the landing bed and bowed to the crowd.
“In the end it got too dark to go for 6.15m and I felt it was unsafe to continue any further,” said the world silver medallist. “I felt I was in the zone. But you have to be prudent.
“It was a fantastic evening. The conditions, crowd, competition – it was all fabulous. Sam is a fabulous competitor, and I feel we bring the best out of each other. We kept pushing each other and you can see the result. It reminded me a bit of the Ultimate Garden Clash, we kept going after the next height. It was quick. I loved it.
“You can see a lot of us are getting back to our best shape,” he added. “Renaud was good, Thiago is getting back there. We could be looking at some great pole vaulting in what is left of this season.”
Double success for Sweden
The women’s event was similarly competitive and boiled down to a four-way contest, but Angelica Bengtsson’s last-gasp 4.72m clearance gave the Swede the victory.
She sailed over 4.34m, 4.44m and 4.54m on her first attempts. Britain’s Holly Bradshaw opened her series at the latter height, also clearing it on her first try, while France’s Marion Lotout, Switzerland’s Angelica Moser and Sweden’s Michaela Meijer also went clear.
Bradshaw then got over 4.64m on her first attempt, as did Moser, setting a lifetime best in the process. Swedish duo Bengtsson and Meijer both got over it on their second tries, while Lotout exited the competition.
The bar moved up to 4.72m and after two rounds of failed attempts it appeared as though no one would be successful. Moser departed the competition with three misses, but was content with her evening’s work. Bengtsson, however, was successful on her third try, setting a season’s best in the process.
Having had the lead snatched away from her, Bradshaw was unable to gain it and missed for a third and final time at 4.72m, as did Meijer.
Bengtsson ended her evening with three attempts at a would-be Swedish record of 4.84m, but was unsuccessful.
“This has been a beautiful experience, the energy from the fans has been amazing and the city is a great backdrop,” said Bengtsson. “I’m happy to be able to come out and put on a show for the fans and hopefully help to lift their spirit as it’s been a tough year for everyone. For us as athletes it’s been tough as well. Personally it has been hard to find the motivation to train after the postponement of the Olympic Games because we focus on that for four years, but I have been able to tell myself summer 2021 will come soon.”
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics