HS Boys Athlete Of The Year — Mondo Duplantis

Mondo Duplantis chalked up no end of recordbreaking performances in his AOY campaign. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

“Mondo” is known as a fierce pole vaulter, the highest worldwide of any age in ’18 and an age-record setter almost every year since he was in the first grade (check out his amazing string of PRs that began in recorded competition at age 6).

Our unanimous High School Boys Athlete Of The Year is officially known as Armand Duplantis, in everyday life a relatively unknown 18-year-old college frosh now going to class on the same LSU campus where his mom and dad met and fell in love. His brother Antoine might mean more to Tiger fans: he is a senior star on the baseball team and already owns school records for hits in a game and a season.

While practically no one knows Armand, it’s a different story with Mondo. A year before he attended a class, billboards around Baton Rouge acknowledged his joining the LSU family. Usually, only contenders for the Heisman or No. 1 pro-draft picks have been so proudly splashed.

Still, on a football-mad campus even Mondo can soar under the radar compared to the crazy popularity that he reached this August when he won the European Championships at 19-10¼ (6.05), equaling the best outdoor clearance seen anywhere since the turn of the century.

The Berlin celebration found him surrounded by more fans than ever before, taking half an hour to progress 50ft. In mom Helena’s Swedish home of Avesta, Mondo’s grandparents basked in being his biggest fans as the entire town enjoyed celebratory discounts from grocers who applied Gold Price tags to anything from coffee to paper towels in honor of the gold medal.

Adapting To College Life

Mondo is very focused on everything he does. He plans to major in sports administration, fully intending to complete his education at LSU. His dad and lifelong coach Greg—a world-class 19-foot vaulter in the ’90s while becoming a lawyer—says that nothing beyond next year is yet planned, and the season currently has just 5 meets firmly on the schedule. The Indoor and Outdoor SECs and NCAAs are the first 4 (“I think anything other than winning those would be disappointing,” says Mondo).

The fifth is October’s World Championships in Doha, where the goal is as simple as it was for the ’18 Europeans. “I sure would like to get a medal under my belt,” he says. “I think I’ll be jumping well enough then to go for the gold. Kind of like Berlin, but hopefully even a better jumper by then.”

He lives with 3 teammates—all medalists from this summer’s World Junior (U20) Championships. Briton Jake Norris (hammer) and Dameion Thomas (110H) both joined Mondo as gold medalists, while JuVaughn Hamilton (formerly Blake) earned a bronze in the high jump. “It’s a good group of guys really dedicated on what they’re doing,” says Mondo. “I think we all have the same goals: everybody wants to go to the Olympics, win a medal, win the Olympics hopefully. We get to bed early because everybody wants to get to bed early. It’s good when you surround yourself with people who want the same thing as you—you just kind of thrive off of that.”

Coaching Changes, But It Doesn’t

LSU jumps coach Todd Lane began in ’07 and vividly remembers a young 11-year-old Mondo “just always hanging around” the vault group, which included the eldest Duplantis child, Andreas, a frosh beginning a 2012–15 career. Mondo was there because the vault pit was his home, whether in the backyard as a kid in Lafayette or wherever Andreas was vaulting. It was in those days he met an Ole Miss vaulter the same age as Andreas—Sam Kendricks, who later become one of his vaulting friends.

No LSU staffer has known Mondo as long as Lane, who says—without any regrets—he won’t be coaching Mondo. “I’m not going to screw up a good thing,” he explains. His friendship with Mondo includes a mutual deep appreciation for pro baseball star Christian Yelich. Coach Lane is also the first to tell you Mondo is a team player: “Two days before his 19-5½ [5.93] at the State meet in May he was asking me what he had to do make our 4×1 team. He didn’t like my answer that he was in the pool.”

The coaching change is not much of a one at all, at least for Mondo. LSU has already welcomed Greg and Helena as volunteer coaches—not just for Mondo, but the whole vault group. Both volunteers will be making a commute of 45 minutes (on a good day) from Lafayette, usually on different days, Greg handling vault sessions and Helena implementing the physical training she writes. This is the system that has worked for Mondo ever since the ’17 season. The vault group has another notable beneficiary in Swedish Junior recordholder Lisa Gunnarsson, who transferred in from Virginia Tech after taking 3rd in last June’s NCAA.

A Fabulous Day in Berlin

Mondo’s best day of vaulting came just as mom and dad had laid it out earlier in the year, but neither coach knew it would happen that way. Earning a Euro medal was the goal when Helena planned the campaign, but she notes that peaking “is really very, very difficult to predict.”

Mondo was the first to know things were right. “All year, every meet I just felt like I jumped good but I wasn’t top, top. My run wasn’t perfect or I was running good and I didn’t jump quite well.” This day was different. He took just two warmup jumps. “I felt it after the first jump.” They moved the practice bungee to 5.80 [19-¼] and Mondo skyed it. “My dad asked, what was the bungee at, 5.50 [18-½]?” Mondo told him it was 5.80 and dad “was like, oh, wow. I think we knew right there this could be a pretty crazy day.”

“I never had a meet the entire summer—I had a lot of great meets—but I don’t think I had a meet where everything came together the way Berlin did. Especially because the two biggest aspects for pole vaulting for me are just if I’m fast and strong physically and the technical side I’m comfortable, I feel like I have a good rhythm, because the best jumps I have I feel I didn’t do anything at all. Like when I made 6.05 [19-10¼] or when I made 5.90 [19-4¼] or 6 meters [19-8¼] it just felt like it was even hard. I didn’t really do anything really. I just felt like everything kind of happened. All my steps and everything were kind of in the right place.” He PRed three times for the first time in his life, first at 19-6¼ (5.95) to put himself in 1st, the second at 19-8¼ (6.00) and finally a first-attempt clearance at 19-10¼ (6.05).

Sharing Air With The WR Holder

Renaud Lavillenie, history’s highest vaulter, is popularly known as Air Lavillenie. Mondo first met the French star before he was the WR holder, at the ’13 Pole Vault Summit in Reno. Both he and dad remember the event as special. The elite vaulters in Reno compete late on Friday with post-meet celebrations going into the early hours of Saturday. Neither father or son expected Renaud to be there the next morning at 8:00 am when 13-year-old Mondo took his turn to compete.

You know you’re in vaulting royalty when WR holder Renaud Lavillenie wants a selfie with you. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Mondo remembers much earlier, back in ’09, when Lavillenie was much less known. Mondo was just 9 and remembers when Renaud first sailed over 5.80 (19-¼), then later even 6.00 (19-8¼): “It was a crazy big jump for him. I just remember watching his videos, and I remember asking Steve Chappell of UCS Spirit—because I knew Renaud used UCS poles—if I could get something from Renaud for me. And I got this poster of him. It was from the meet where he cleared 6.01 [19-8½], but it wasn’t the 6.01 jump.” Didn’t matter. Renaud signed it. The poster is still in Mondo’s room in Lafayette, along with another from when Renaud jumped 19-9¼ (6.03) to win the ’11 European Indoor—again, Mondo says it’s not the actual clearance.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” he says. “He came to watch me and he’s one of my idols. Just that he came to watch me was special and put even more motivation to jump high that day.” Mondo raised his PR from 13-¼ (3.96) to 13-6 (4.11) that morning.

He continues the narrative with ’17, “Then I had my crazy junior year when I started the year at 5.61, then I hit 72, 75 then 82. I got a couple messages from him on Instagram, kind of about how I’ll probably see him soon because we’ll be jumping some of the big meets.” They did, including London’s World Championships, where 17-year-old Mondo became the meet’s youngest-ever finalist.

They’re similar vaulters, with Mondo seamlessly using Lavillenie’s poles in the London DL this summer when his were delayed. Greg sees the similarity, and Renaud and Mondo know it. The transition went from fan/idol to competitors to friends. Greg puts it even a step higher, calling the Frenchman “mentor, his older brother.” Lavillenie—who invited Mondo to his house to train for 10 days prior to the Paris DL—was the first to congratulate Mondo on his Euro victory.

How High The Moon?

Most people are shy about a subject like becoming the best ever, but Mondo says, “I think I’ll break the World Record. I don’t know if I’m in that much of a rush to do it this year. But if I have a meet like Berlin—which you don’t have every time, but I don’t know when it will happen—then the World Record is possible.”

His ’19 goals are only slightly less ambitious: “I would like to jump 6m more than once this year. I think that’s my biggest goal. Renaud told me that if I wanted to make 6m [19-8¼] that I’d have to be consistent at 5.80 [19-¼]. I had 10 of 12 outdoor meets before the European Championships over 5.80, and the other two were still over 5.70 [18-8¼]. So then I jump 6m and he said if you want to break the World Record you have to become consistent at 6m. So that’s my next goal—6m, become consistent at 6m.” □

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