He may be in the early stages of his pole vault career, but Armand “Mondo” Duplantis has already scaled the summit of his sport.
The Swede broke his own world record in February, first jumping 6.17 meters in Poland before clearing 6.18 in Scotland the following weekend.
That was three months after his 20th birthday and five months before he was due to jump at the Olympics for the first time.
The coronavirus outbreak has shelved his Olympic aspirations for now, the postponement coming shortly after headlines had heralded him as the next Usain Bolt and tipped him to light up Tokyo.
But for Duplantis, who started pole vaulting at the age of three in his parents’ backyard in Louisiana, writing his name into the sport’s record books has always been the dream.
“When I first started pole vaulting, I had big aspirations. I wanted to be the best to ever live and I always wanted
to break the world record,” he tells CNN Sport.
“I always thought that I was capable of it, too. I was pretty confident in my abilities, but I wasn’t sure that it would come as soon as it did … It’s hard to believe sometimes that I am the world record holder.”
His reaction to the first world record — limbs flapping, his face a picture of ecstatic disbelief as he climbs into the stands to embrace his mom — is proof Duplantis hardly expected such success at this stage of his career.
Celebrations were more assured second time around in Glasgow — hands tucked under the armpits akin to French striker Kylian Mbappe — but even now the words Mondo Duplantis, world record holder, haven’t quite sunk in.
“When I talk to (Renaud) Lavillenie or when I look at (Sergey) Bubka (previous pole vault world record holders), it still feels like they’re the guys,” he says.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s still real that it’s actually me. But it is, and I have to get used to it. It’s cool — I can’t complain.”
The summer may not have panned out the way Duplantis anticipated, but he has recently returned to competitive action in Europe.
“It’s hard to say, to put a number on it and put a cap on myself,” says Duplantis, who has chosen to represent his
mother’s native Sweden,
“I try not to limit myself on what I can do. I won’t say this because I might be able to jump higher, or this because I might not be able to jump as high.
“But I can’t see any reason why I can’t jump higher than I’ve already jumped right now, for sure.”
With the closure of training facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak, Duplantis returned to his family home in Louisiana to train on the runway and pit he used to spend hours on as a kid.
He competed against 2012 Olympic gold medalist Lavillenie and two-time world champion Sam Kendricks in the “Ultimate Garden Clash” during lockdown, a contest held in the backyards of three of the world’s top pole vaulters and live streamed by World Athletics.
The backyard pole vault facility became something of a fad during lockdown. American Sandi Morris built one in her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, and hosted a competition there in July.
Duplantis attributes much of his current success to having access to a pole vault set up from such a young age. While many athletes don’t take up the sport until high school, at that point he had already spent years honing his technique.
“It was everything for me,” he says.
“You get this base for an event that I got at such a young age. When I was eight or nine years old, I was already starting to really figure out the event.
“I had a really big head-start on everybody, you could say. Without the whole set up in my backyard, who knows where I would be today?”
While most kids in his neighborhood would be shooting hoops or kicking soccer balls, Duplantis says pole vaulting was always the “normal thing” for him to do in his free time.
“It was my little playground, that backyard,” he continues.
“I got introduced to it in such a fun way. I figured out what I liked and figured out how to have so much fun with it.
“I think that’s why I have the passion for the event that I do now. I always figured out how to have so much fun.
From idol to rival and friend
That Duplantis is enjoying his time as an elite pole vaulter is partly evidenced in the friendship he has forged with fellow competitor Lavillenie.
The two first met in 2013 and have since trained and competed alongside each other. Lavillenie, the previous world record holder who is 13 years Duplantis’ senior, has never been shy of sharing tips and advice.
“Renaud was my idol growing up ever since I was 10 years old and I was just getting into pole vaulting and starting to become obsessed with him in general and the way he jumps, how he can do what he was doing,” says Duplantis.
“He truly wants the best from me, and he has for quite some time now. Ever since 2017 when I first competed against him, he’s always been there to give me some words of advice. I’ll always be appreciative of that.”
Lavillenie sent the 20-year-old a message before Duplantis broke the world record for the first time — “something like, ‘good luck today, jump high but not too high'” — and the pair also spoke on the phone soon afterwards.
Having seen his world record bettered, the Frenchman has tipped his young rival to jump as high as 6.20m or 6.25m in the future.
If the form Duplantis displayed earlier this year is anything to go by, you’d be brave to think otherwise.
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