Renaud Lavillenie in the pole vault at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Report London, UK

Report: men's pole vault qualification – IAAF World Championships London 2017

It is fair to say that London agrees with Renaud Lavillenie.

On his last two trips to England’s capital city, the pole vault world record holder won the 2012 Olympic title with a Games record 5.97m and the 2015 Anniversary Games with an IAAF Diamond League record of 6.03, the joint fifth best clearance of his career.

The 30-year-old Frenchman also won at the 2016 Diamond League meeting in the London Stadium, with 5.90m, and cleared the same height when he won the 2014 Anniversary Games, held that year on Horse Guards Parade.

In fact, not since a 2010 no-height in the Grand Prix meeting across town at Crystal Palace has Lavillenie suffered a defeat in London.

It was perhaps no great surprise then that the greatest pole vaulter in history managed to regain something of his old mojo on his return for the qualifying rounds of the 2017 IAAF World Championships London 2017 this morning.

All summer, Lavillenie has looked out of sorts, short of form and confidence – not surprisingly considering he only started training in May following a foot injury.

Today, while more fancied rivals wobbled, Lavillenie was the picture of composure. Vaulting in Group A, he sat out the two opening heights, 5.30m and 5.45m, before sailing over 5.60m and 5.70m at the first time of asking.

Having arrived in London considered as an outsider, a serious challenge for a first outdoor world title in Tuesday’s final now beckons for the two-time world indoor champion.

"Today it was an important step because everybody needs to go through the qualification,” Lavillenie reflected. “I know there will be a lot of work in the final but I am just happy to be in the world championships final.

"I am used to coming to these championships as the number one but this time it is a different position for me. I was jumping with injuries this season but I am able to jump 5.90m or maybe even more if everything goes right.

"I love competing. I love fighting. And I think it is going to be very interesting. I do not think it is good when you come to this competition too relaxed. Then you are not concentrated enough.

“You just need one good jump, so I cross my fingers for that. My goal at these championships is to get on the podium one more time. For the bronze you sometimes need to fight like for gold."

Only one of Lavillenie’s rivals returned a perfect card. Piotr Lisek, the Pole who cleared 6.00m indoors in February, had first time clearances at 5.30m, 5.45m, 5.60m and 5.75m.

Pre-competition favourite Sam Kendricks had a far from smooth passage. The Olympic silver medallist from the United States dislodged the bar on his first two attempts at 5.60m before making the height with his final attempt and proceeding to nail 5.70m first time and finish on top in Group B.

"I was lucky to rally enough for that last big jump,” Kendricks said. “There was actually a bit of trouble for everyone at the middle heights. We didn't even know who had qualified for the final at the end.

"After medalling at the world indoors [silver behind Lavillenie] and Olympics last year, I plan to be competitive for every international medal from now on. I want to complete the full set here."

Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski, the 2011 champion, also had his struggles, the Pole needing three attempts at both 5.60m and 5.70m.

“I feel relieved,” he said. “Qualification can always be tricky.”

It can, indeed. Armand Duplantis, the 17-year-old Swede who cleared 5.90m in April, needed three attempts to negotiate the opening height, 5.30m, and also failed first time at 5.45m and 5.60m.

At 5.70m, the recently-crowned European Under 23 champion succeeded with his third effort to make the cut as the youngest field event finalist in the history of the IAAF World Championships.

Defending champion Shawn Barber of Canada, 2013 champion Raphael Holzdeppe from Germany and  2014 world junior champion Axel Chapelle of France also made the final with third-time successes at 5.70m.

Belgium’s Arnaud Art, Kurtis Marschall of Australia and Chinese duo Jie Yao and Changrui Xue all progressed courtesy of first time clearances at 5.60m.

Lavillenie’s younger brother Valentin was tantalisingly close with his final shot at 5.70m. Having needed two attempts at 5.60m, he will have to settle for a seat in the stands when his brother Renaud bids for the one crown missing from his pole vaulting CV on Tuesday.

Simon Turnbull for the IAAF