2022 T&FN Men’s Athlete Of The Year — Mondo Duplantis

The best of Mondo’s 3 World Records on the year taped out at 20-4½… but he figures he can go higher still. (MARK SHEARMAN)

IT WAS A TELLING MOMENT for our Men’s Athlete Of The Year. Following his World Record leap for the WC gold medal in Eugene, Mondo Duplantis fielded a question from a reporter who said that Greg Duplantis — Mondo’s dad and coach — had opined that his son had the potential to clear 6.30 or 6.40. In English measure that’s a mind-blowing 20-8 to 21-0 range. Did he agree with Dad?

The vault prodigy, a veteran at the still-tender age of 23, rolled his eyes in the universally recognized response to proud dads everywhere. But then he considered the question further, and referring to his new WR of 20-4½ (6.21), said, “I did not touch it. That gives you confidence that you can go higher.” Then he stowed that ambition away, centering himself by saying, “I’m going to enjoy this moment, enjoy what I did.”

The Cajun-born Swede takes our top honor for the first time (though in ’20, the truncated pandemic year with no AOY award, he was named MVP). This year the fan favorite put together a campaign that very nearly was perfect, highlighted by world titles indoors and out, 3 World Records, and 23 vaults above the once-daunting 6-meter (19-8¼) barrier.

That he is a huge fan favorite is due in part to his followers being able to see him in action so often. Like most vaulters, Duplantis competed frequently, showing his stuff in 19 finals in 12 countries on 3 continents. Only one other men’s No. 1 competed more often (discus thrower Kristjan Čeh at 21, though long jumper Miltiádis Tentóglou tied with Duplantis).

The year started auspiciously enough with an undefeated indoor campaign that culminated in a pair of WRs. The first came in Belgrade on March 7, when he topped 20-3¾ (6.19). Just 13 days later he won the World Indoor in the same arena, slipping over 20-4 (6.20).

“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “Another title, another World Record — it’s been a pretty good day. Going over 6.20m for the first time, it’s hard to explain. It’s something that you can only dream of.”

Outdoors the winning continued, with Diamond League victories in Doha, Eugene, Oslo and Stockholm. On his (European) home turf he prepped for the Worlds by clearing 20-2½ (6.16), the highest outdoor vault of his life.

More notably, it was the highest outdoor vault ever by any human, and back in the days when indoor and outdoor vault records were tallied separately, it would have been heralded as a new World Record, topping his own 20-2 (6.15) from ’20.

Then came Eugene, where his perfect jump provided a fairytale ending for the first outdoor World Championships to be held on U.S. soil. “It couldn’t have happened in a more perfect way, honestly,” he said. “It’s so many years and hours and everything that build up to these special moments. And… when it hits you, you just become really grateful for everything in the journey.”

His work not yet finished, the focus turned to the European Championships. On the way he won another DL in Chorzów with a 20-0 (6.10) bar-topper. Then in Munich, he cleared everything on his first try to win at 19-10½ (6.06), a centimeter higher than his height when he previously won the Euro title as a Louisiana high schooler in ’18.

Three more Diamond League paydays remained on his schedule, but with such a long season, the risk of a loss grew bigger after emotionally coming down from the championship meets. It happened at the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels, when Filipino vaulter EJ Obiena got the better of him. The loss took nothing away from his ’22 campaign:

“2022 was a really great year for me. I achieved a lot of things that I wanted to achieve, including the World Championship and the World Record. I’m very happy with my performance and I’m trying to keep moving forward.”

A vaulter unlike any the sport has ever seen, Duplantis continues a comfort with high altitudes that boggles his competitors. Not that he clears every bar he would like to. He explained, “When you start getting up to those higher heights, it’s just kind of a game of little centimeters and sometimes you can be not off by much, but, you know, it’s just too much for those kinds of heights.”

Still, nobody’s done it better. “I’m very grateful for the position I’m in right now, but I feel that there is still a lot more work ahead of me and that I can reach much higher goals,” he said. “I’m going to try to keep pushing the limits, pushing the barriers, and see how far I can go. I really believe that I still have more in the tank.

“My goal is to always go higher and for as long as possible. I don’t know how far we’ll go.”