“THAT WAS THE most amazing competition I’ve ever been involved with,” said Sam Kendricks after successfully defending his title. And it had indeed been an amazing competition, although in some respects, it was entirely predictable. Only 3 men in the world had jumped 6-meters (19-8¼) this year and each of them had done it twice. Picking Kendricks, Mondo Duplantis and Piotr Lisek to win the medals in Doha was easy. (One wag on the T&FN Message Board suggested that “a blind squirrel” could have foreseen who would be on the podium.) But each of them had beaten each of the others at least three times this season. Who would beat whom at the Worlds? The process by which they got to their respective places on the podium turned out to be that amazing competition.
The 2-step process of reducing the field to the top 3 was also interesting. The qualifying round was unusually tough, with two vaulters clearing 18-8¼ (5.70) and not qualifying for the finals, the first time that’s ever happened in any meet. Among those eliminated were WR holder Renaud Lavillenie, ’11 World Champ Paweł Wojciechowski and three NCAA frosh—KC Lightfoot, Zach Bradford & Sondre Guttormsen, the last of whom represented Norway here (Duplantis, of course, was also a collegiate yearling this year).
The early jumping in the final eliminated USATF runner-up Cole Walsh, ’13 World Champ Raphael Holzdeppe and Rio gold medalist Thiago Braz. Surprisingly, only the top 3 could clear 19-¼ (5.80). They each had clean records at that point, and that’s where the fun began. The bar went to 19-3 (5.87). Sweden’s Duplantis and Poland’s Lisek cleared on their second attempts, but Kendricks missed his first two. He decided to forego the tactical pass; his third-attempt clearance left him alive but in the bronze position.
The next height was 19-5 (5.92), which Kendricks cleared on his first go. At that point it was Lisek, who had missed, who had the choice to make and he decided to pass his last two attempts. Duplantis kept jumping and cleared it on his third attempt, moving him up to 2nd. At 19-7 (5.97), Lisek missed twice and confirmed his bronze. On the third, Mondo jiggled the bar with his chest but it stuck and he was back in the lead, earning a hug from Kendricks. So now the favorite was once again in dire need of a third-try clearance or he would lose. He didn’t lose, producing another clean clearance, moving back into the lead and earning a reciprocal hug from Mondo.
Duplantis and Kendricks then had two decent, but not very close, attempts at 19-9 (6.02). Duplantis’s third miss ended the competition, as Kendricks called it a day, jumping into the pit, where the two sat and chatted a minute, taking off their shoes. They were soon joined by third medalist Lisek and they eventually stood up and did simultaneous backflips.
“I am elated, stunned, excited all at the same time,” said the 27-year-old Kendricks. “It’s almost hard to take it in. To have 3 men over six all going for it—the Titans of the event this year—made it such a memorable night. We weren’t dueling as enemies, but as rivals and friends.”
In his on-field interview in the stadium, Duplantis’s first reaction to the competition was “Gosh, Sam is good!” At a later press conference, he was philosophical about his silver medal: “Competing with these guys a lot and competing in the big stage I learned. I don’t think I was able to do better things I did today. Sometimes it’s good to lose. It gives you motivation.”
Lisek, too, had no complaints about his position. “The standard of our event is so high. I cannot complain about winning bronze. I am very glad I managed to confirm that I belong to the world class of the pole vaulters,” he said.
WC MEN’S POLE VAULT RESULTS
(October 01) (temperature 77F/25C; humidity 53%)
1. Sam Kendricks (US) 19-7 (5.97);
2. Mondo Duplantis (Swe) 19-7 (5.97);
3. Piotr Lisek (Pol) 19-3 (5.87);
4. Bo Kanda Lita Baehre (Ger) 18-8¼ (5.70);
5. Thiago Braz (Bra) 18-8¼ (5.70);
=6. Raphael Holzdeppe (Ger) 18-8¼ (5.70);
=6. Valentin Lavillenie (Fra) 18-8¼ (5.70);
8. Claudio Michel Stecchi (Ita) 18-8¼ (5.70);
9. Bokai Huang (Chn) 18-2½ (5.55);
=10. Augusto Dutra (Bra) 18-2½ (5.55);
=10. Cole Walsh (US) 18-2½ (5.55);
12. Ben Broeders (Bel) 18-2½ (5.55).
(September 28; auto-qualifier 18-10¼/5.75)
Qualifiers: Baehre, Broeders, Dutra & Lavillenie cleared 18-8¼/5.70; all other finalists cleared 18-10¼/5.75 (=highest Q ever)
Non-qualifiers: [18-8¼/5.70]— Konstadínos Filippídis (Gre), Paweł Wojciechowski (Pol);
[18-4½/5.60]— Zach Bradford (US), Bangchao Ding (Chn), Emmanouíl Karalís (Gre), Renaud Lavillenie (Fra), KC Lightfoot (US), Ernest John Obiena (Phi), Robert Sobera (Pol), Seito Yamamoto (Jpn);
[17-10½/5.45]—Torben Blech (Ger), Masaki Ejima (Jpn), Min-Sub Jin (SK), Rutger Koppelaar (Hol), Daichi Sawano (Jpn), Alioune Sene (Fra);
[17-4½/5.30]—Sondre Guttormsen (Nor);
… nh—Jie Yao (Chn).