Bruce Brown: Solid gold performer: Vaulter Mondo Duplantis sets bar beyond the reach of mere mortals

Former LSU All-American and Olympic gold medalist Mondo Duplantis. PHOTO BY: Frankie Fouganthin, Wikimedia Commons

The moment wasn’t scripted, but it could have been.

It was too good to miss, so it was only natural that it was saved for the final event of the day.

There, in the far corner of Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, stood Mondo Duplantis, the finest pole vaulter in history, awaiting the chance to push that bar ever further into space than before.

The American born prodigy, who turned on Nov. 10th, had already won the World Track and Field Championships pole vault for Sweden.

All that remained now was yet another world record.

And, on his second try Duplantis sailed easily over the bar at 6.21 meters – 20 feet, 4 inches in American eyes – to put it of reach once again or everyone but the former LSU All-American.

“Obviously, it worked out almost perfectly,” Duplantis said. “It’s what you practice (for), every day. We
didn’t plan it that way, but it worked out.

“Pole vault is always the last event of a meet. It’s an event that often takes a long time to finish. It
just happened that it was last. It was absolutely perfect, a dream. The same thing happened during the
season in Belgrade, at the indoors championship.”.

Duplantis had plenty of room to spare when he cleared the bar, prompting wonder at how high he
could go.

“I can go higher,” he said without a trace of self-importance.

The stirring finish provided the top moment out of a year’s worth.

DUPLANTIS’ APPROACH WAS UNIQUE ON HIS HISTORIC DAY

“I didn’t think about the record that much today,” he said. “Usually, it’s always somewhere in the back
of my mind, but today I was really focused on the win, and I really wanted to win the gold so badly.

“You get quite a bit of pressure on you when you’re the only person competing on the entire track, but it’s an honor when people stay in their seats and it’s literally only me on the track. I love jumping in Eugène. It’s amazing here.”

It was the fifth time Duplantis had broken the world record, but the first time he’d achieved it outdoors. He first posted a 6.17 in Torun 2020 and swept the event both indoors and outdoors in the 2021 and 2022 Diamond League seasons based in Europe.

Legendary Russian great Sergay Bubka cleared 6.14 in July 1994 – some five years before Duplantis was
born, for the last record holder to achieve it outdoors.

“It is the medal I’ve been missing,” Duplantis said.

American rival Chris Nilson was second, and Ernst Obion of the Philippines third – both clearing 5.94.

LSU SUPERSTAR TRULY AMAZES THE WORLD
“Mondo is amazing,” said Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, a friend and role model for Duplantis. “Honestly,
he’s done what nobody else has done before. He is still young. He can get even better. Obviously, he’s a person I like a lot. So that’s even nicer to see his performance,”

Duplantis assured himself the World Outdoors title with a first try 6.06, making it look easy then spreading his arms and bowing to the crowd.

He aborted his first try at 6.21m and spent the time charring with Lavillenie before nailing the record
attempt. He bounced back up upon landing, then ran down the backstretch punctuated by a forward flip in jubilation.

“It is my mom and dad who deserve the most credit for this,” Duplantis said. “My girlfriend came all the way from Sweden to watch me jump, and my best friend was also here. So, there were a lot of people in
the stands pulling for me,”

Duplantis improved four inches at the tender age of 22 in 2022, so anything seems possible.

“It sounds crazy,” he said.

The thing that stretches credulity is the fact that Duplantis didn’t just have that one sonic boom of a leap. He was that good all year, making six meters commonplace with great regularity.

“I jumped 6.0 (or better) in every meet,” said Duplantis, who won both the indoor and outdoor season Diamond League titles in Europe.

He has cleared 6 meters 54 times, leaving qualified professionals in his wake.

In the rearview mirror is Bubka, who cleared six meters 46 times.

THE TWO MAIN REASONS DUPLANTIS COMPETES FOR SWEDEN
While the world title and records are his, another meet during the season was also special as Duplantis
won the Diamond League event in Stockholm at 6.16 (20 feet, 2 inches).

“I live about 10 minutes from here, so you want to defend your home territory first and foremost,” he
said afterwards, “The pressure is still on me at the World Championships, of course. I always want to do well.”

Duplantis decided to compete for Sweden to honor his mother, Helena, a former volleyball and track star at LSU and a Swedish native. He and older brothers Andreas and Antoine and sister Johanna grew up
in a bi-cultural clan comfortable in Europe or south Louisiana.

There’s also the acceptance of track and field in Europe. It’s a major sport, with bountiful bonuses and
rewards for top performances, while team sports like football and baseball and the NBA flourish in America.

Duplantis is a star in Sweden.

He is now the world record holder both indoors and outdoors.

He was the 2021 Olympic gold medalist after waiting a year because of the worldwide COVID pandemic,
setting the stage for 2022 dominance.

“It was nearly perfect,” Duplantis said. “Early in the European season, we didn’t have especially good
weather for some of the meets. Yet we still were able to keep jumping 6 meters.

“It was a really big year for me. I’m just 22, and I’ve had some really big jumps. We did things nobody else is doing.”

Again, there’s not a trace of conceit when he says this, simply facts.

“I don’t think I surprised myself, really,” he said. “Not that much. I jump six meters all the time now. You keep working at it. If you go high, it’s really good day. I didn’t really anticipate the year I had. ‘I just look to go high all the time.”


NON-STOP YEAR-AROUND EFFORT

To do that, Duplantis works at his craft year-around.

“It’s every day, really,” he said. “You work on technique. I want to be faster, stronger. I’m off right now, but
I’ll go back and get focused. There’s something you can work on every day.”

That competitive drive was born at an early age, at the Duplantis home in Lafayette that includes a pole vault runway and uprights, ropes hanging from the trees and trampolines that even draw the family dogs aboard.

Duplantis set every age group height record there was in his youth.

Then came Lafayette High, where Duplantis won four straight LHSAA Class 5A state titles outdoors (with
heights of 16-9, 17-9, 18-2.5 and 19-5.5) and was equally proficient indoors.

During his senior year, he seemingly grew bored winning the vault by 3-4-5 feet each week, so he
took up the 100-meter sprint to work on his speed.

He qualified for the 5A regional meet in Alexandria and looked overmatched after 50 meters against
some polished speedy veterans. That’s when his burst kicked in, and he dashed to a winning 10.57 to beat
Josh Newton, Michael Hamburg and Kwon Haves, all at 10.67.

Don’t underestimate the heart of a Mighty Lion was the lesson.
That same drive earned SEC and NCAA titles at LSU for Duplantis, topping out at 19-5 indoors and
19-8.5 outdoors during his brief stop with the Tigers.

POLE VAULTING AND GOLF SAMO-SAMO TO MONDO
When he gets away from vaulting, golf is Duplantis’s choice of past times.

“Golf and pole vault are really similar,” he said. “When you practice golf, you focus on making your
shots. You do the same thing in vaulting – focusing on individual things. You have club selection for a shot in golf; in vaulting you select a pole and approach.

“There are a lot of parallels to golf.”

Duplantis also relishes the face-to-face competition offered by both golf and the pole vault.

COMPETITIVE NATURE IS IN HIS GENES
That competitive nature was evidenced early as he set those world age group records in his youth.

His father, and coach, Greg Duplantis, was an All-American pole vaulter for LSU who cleared 18-5.25 in his college days and exceeded 19 feet as a pro.

Oldest brother Andreas performed in the upper 17-foot range as an LSU vaulter.

Brother Antoine is the career hits leader in LSU baseball history,

Younger sister Johanna is a pole vaulter for the LSU Lady Tigers.

To say that Duplantis had a tailor-made bloodline to succeed is an understatement. But you still have to do something with it when the time comes.

Mondo Duplantis’ time has come, and he doesn’t seem ready to stop now.

Greg Duplantis said most pole vaulters don’t peak until they hit their 30’s – like Bubka – which
is not what Mondo’s rivals wanted to hear.

“I’m looking for new challenges, new challengers,” Mondo Duplantis said, “It’s still fun for me. I still like the competition. I’d like to win another Olympics. I’d like to vault 21 feet.”

Sounds like fun, and worth the wait if he vaults last in a meet yet to come.

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