MAY 3—IT WAS BILLED as The Ultimate Garden Clash but the smart bet is we will see more web-streamed competitions like it in this trying, sports-starved time. Mondo Duplantis and Renaud Lavillenie came away with a tie for the win over Sam Kendricks as the three best-buddy vaulters, each in his own backyard, tilted to see who could put up more 5.00m (16-4¾) clearances in 30 minutes. The matchup was livestreamed by World Athletics and delivered like cool, cool water for track fans in a searing drought. Some of us may not see an outdoor field competition this year but we got some small respite from this.
In the two 15-minute halves, the Louisianana/Swede vaulting at home in Lafayette and the Frenchman at his domicile in Clermont-Ferrand each got in 36 makes with a miss for each while Kendricks on his family’s property near Oxford, Mississippi, cleared 26 times with no misses.
Afterwards the high and on this day rapidly flying trio conceded that a tie-breaker was the one detail they had neglected to hash out as they devised the format. WA’s streaming producers suggested on the fly a 3-minute playoff round for which Mondo began to prepare amid some audio glitches that created momentary confusion. In the end, ’12 Olympic champion and former World Record holder Lavillenie opted out declaring, “I’m done. I don’t want to take any risks.”
Fair enough. The Frenchman is 33. Mondo is still the fresh 20-year-old young buck who raised Lavillenie’s WR over the winter. For the camera, although the clock had stopped, Duplantis added a 37th clearance just to show he could.
Out of the box, Duplantis scored the first clearance and midway through the first half had 9 makes to Lavillenie’s 8 with Kendricks at 6. That order held until the break, when the totals stood at 18, 17 and 13.
After the streaming audience was treated to glimpses of Lavillenie’s 2-year-old daughter Iris gamboling around his yard with a tiny vaulting pole, the contest resumed. Kendricks, whose clearances all came with notable margin over the bar, had dug himself too deep a hole. He told the audience he was playing chess. Mondo merely kept attacking with Lavillenie always close.
When Duplantis notched his lone miss with about 2:00 remaining, Lavillenie soared over his 32nd bar of the half-hour to take the lead. He was first to 36 makes but Mondo hit one more for the tie with seconds to spare.
The comp was laudable creative fun in a friendly format. The 5.00 setting, a cakewalk setting for these athletes, was chosen because backyard runways limited them to shorter than full approaches.
Faced with technological challenges in airing the Ultimate Garden Clash live with limited leadup time, the presentation mostly worked. Except for a lag in the on-screen scoring tabulator amid the fast-paced action. At the closing buzzer WA’s commentator Rob Walker along with most watching sat confused about the final clearance count. Was it a tie? This writer thought Duplantis perhaps had 37. A draw it was, per the “officials.”
Said Duplantis, “It’s been fairly tough times for not only me and all the other athletes but everybody in the entire world. With everything being canceled it’s tougher to find motivation and having this fun little competition was really something to look forward to for the past month because I missed the feeling of competing, I missed being out there with the guys. We could do this kind of virtually. It was a really fun time. It was fun to switch back into competition gear again. It was fun being out there competing against those guys again, for sure.”
Kendricks, despite his loss, said, “The general sense of this competition was just supposed to be fun. A way to eat up time on a Sunday and give a chance to everybody to watch. Not everybody has the means to do something like this, which is why we got the call. We are professional athletes, we are professional pole vaulters, professional competitors. We’ve got to find a way to do what we do.”
Afterwards in the “virtual mixed zone” Kendricks awarded Lavillenie a “Cock of the Yard” trophy—an impressive black and red rooster his brother handed him from off camera. Said Lavillenie, “I will visit him next time I come to you.” The American then told his vanquishers, “You both have won a 1-week stay at Casa de Kendricks in Rancho Olympia at a time of your choosing because you both beat me.”
Mulling the time of his choosing, Mondo named it: “The second college football starts.”