Renaud Lavillenie in Birmingham (© Getty Images)
With the bar at 5.90m and three men clear at 5.85m, Renauld Lavillenie stood on the runway as the final man to make a second attempt, knowing that a clearance would likely secure him a third world indoor title.
Having just watched his two main rivals for gold – world champion Sam Kendricks and silver medallist Piotr Lisek – narrowly fail, the Frenchman saw his chance for victory.
And it was an opportunity he wouldn’t let slip, as he contorted his body over the bar to the delight of the Birmingham crowd, most of whom had remained in their seats to watch the climax of a competition that had been in progress for more than two-and-a-half hours.
Neither USA’s Kendricks nor Poland’s Lisek could respond, although both made honourable efforts, including a strong attempt by Kendricks at 5.95m, which would have been an indoor personal best.
After Kendricks brought the bar down with his stomach, Lavillenie launched into a victory sprint and embraced his friend, before quickly deciding to attempt the six-metre barrier.
Three close attempts followed, perhaps the best coming on the second attempt, where the 31-year-old had the height but knocked it off on the way back down.
Still, it was a superb victory for the world record-holder in an event that had been billed as possibly the strongest field ever to contest an IAAF World Indoor Championships pole vault final. It was a competition that didn’t disappoint.
A record 13 men got over 5.60m, while nine men cleared 5.70m and six exceeded 5.80m in a high quality contest that featured a glut of major championships medallists, perhaps the only disappointment being the early exits of Olympic champion Thiago Braz and 2011 world champion Pawel Wojciechowski of Poland.
It was also a competition that saw the next generation of vaulters come to the fore. Sweden’s 18-year-old Armand Duplantis, the European U20 champion, took a creditable seventh place with 5.70m, while fellow teenager Emmanouil Karalis of Greece went one better, vaulting 5.80m for a share of fifth place with Germany’s 2013 world champion Raphael Holzdeppe who himself made a welcome return to form.
Australia’s 20-year-old Kurtis Marschall also acquitted himself superbly, first-time clearances at 5.60m, 5.70m and 5.80m securing him fourth.
But it was the three medallists from the 2017 IAAF World Championships and 2016 World Indoor Championships that were ultimately in contention for the win, although they got to the business end of the competition by following different paths.
Kendricks, who sportingly applauded and encouraged his competitors throughout the competition, attempted the opening height of 5.45m, with Lisek waiting until the second bar. Lavillenie, on the other hand, waited until 5.70m to begin and then passed until the bar reached 5.85, clearing both heights first time.
The title clearly meant a lot to Lavillenie, who stood for the national anthem with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks.
"I'm very, very happy,” he confirmed. “The competition was a real battle. The competition was very long and very intense as you can see with seven athletes trying to jump 5.90m.”
Ever the perfectionist, the Frenchman even had time for a touch of self-reflection.
"I was a little disappointed to miss my first jump at 5.90m as I know I am able to get it. But to be able to secure one more gold medal in the world championships is a crazy feeling."
Kendricks was also far from disappointed, partly because of the respect he has for the man who vaulted 6.16m four years ago.
"I'm ecstatic with silver,” he said. “Every time cannot be your day to win but you can try to be at your most competitive and that's what I aimed to do and I aim to be.
"I went for the win at 5.95m. Outdoors I was able to do it so I was still confident but it's a high bar to make on only one attempt.
"I must therefore bow out to Renaud and understand that he is a great indoor jumper and he made those jumps when it was crucial.
"On Friday I said it would take something special to win and that was it."
Dean Hardman for the IAAF