Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field

Pole vault stars set bar high in backyard competition

Mondo Duplantis of Sweden and Renaud Lavillenie of France tied for the gold medal Sunday during a men's pole vault competition held in their own backyards. It was a rare sporting event held during the coronavirus pandemic.

'Ultimate Garden Clash' a treat for fans with track and field season on pause

2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie, left, and current world-record holder Mondo Duplantis shared the gold medal in Sunday's remote Ultimate Garden Clash that also featured fellow pole vaulter Sam Kendricks. (Getty Images/File)

French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie hardly treated this like a garden-variety competition.

It was for backyard bragging rights. So he raised his intensity.

Lavillenie and Mondo Duplantis of Sweden shared the gold medal Sunday during a men's pole vault competition held in their own yards. Advertised as the Ultimate Garden Clash, it was a rare sporting event contested during the coronavirus pandemic.

Duplantis, a world record-holder, and Lavillenie, the 2012 Olympic champion, each cleared a height of five metres (16 feet) 36 times over a span of 30 minutes that was broadcast by World Athletics on its social media channels. Both had one miss. Sam Kendricks of the United States got the bronze by clearing the bar 26 times in a competition featuring three of the event's biggest names.

It just might have been a preview of the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed to 2021. Lavillenie certainly took his concentration to another level.

"It's crazy, but even doing this in my garden, I get the same feeling I'd get at a major championships," Lavillenie said. "It was very exciting and I'm very happy to be a part of it."

They tried to figure out a tiebreaker before electing to share the gold. The 20-year-old Duplantis initially pushed for a three-minute playoffs format that was on the table, while the 33-year-old Lavillenie nixed the plan. He was exhausted.

WATCH | 3 of the world's top pole vaulters compete remotely:

Duplantis, Lavillenie share gold medal in Ultimate Garden Clash 

Sports

12 months ago
5:11
Pole vault stars Renaud Lavillenie, Mondo Duplantis and Sam Kendricks hold a competition in their own backyards. 5:11

'I had really missed competing'

Lavillenie did clear his 36th bar seconds before Duplantis, who jumped 6.18 in February to break Lavillenie's world record. The event was split into two 15-minute sessions with a short halftime.

"I will give you a rematch, Mondo," he playfully said at the end.

Added Duplantis. "It was really fun being out there competing against those guys. I had really missed competing. I didn't think it was going to end in a tie, but that's sports."

The backyard idea was brought forth by Lavillenie, and the trio collaborated on the unique competition format because adjusting the bar wasn't practical without officials in place.

Duplantis competed from his base in Lafayette, Louisiana, with his setup next to a garden wall. Kendricks was at his farm in Oxford, Miss., with his landing mat nestled between trees and near a fence where a horse occasionally was caught on the video feed.

Then there was Lavillenie, who took part from Clermont-Ferrand, France. The family's trampoline was pushed to the side and there was a swingset in the background.

'Really innovative,' says World Athletics president

Don't expect this to be a new pole-vaulting format, though. This was only for show. Still, it made for entertaining theatre.

"The general sense of this competition was just supposed to be fun," said Kendricks, the two-time world champion. "A way to eat up time on a Sunday and give a chance for everybody to watch."

WATCH | Lavillenie, Duplantis & Kendricks battle from start to finish:

Ultimate Garden Clash: Pole Vault Edition

Sports

12 months ago
1:02:25
Pole vault stars Renaud Lavillenie, Mondo Duplantis and Sam Kendricks compete in their own backyards. 1:02:25

Among those watching was World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who gave the competition high marks.

"This is a brilliant initiative, great fun and really innovative," Coe said in a statement. "My thanks go to them, their families and the World Athletics team for bringing live athletics back during lockdown. I hope we can bring a few more events like this to bring to all athletics fans out there."

Alysha Newman, who holds the Canadian indoor/outdoor records for women, also tuned in.

"It wasn't about who could jump the highest but rather who was in the best jumping shape," she told CBC Sports. "It was the first time we've seen cardio introduced to pole vault and it showed how hard it was on them. You could hear them huffing and puffing. The athleticism of the men was tested.

"Pole vaulting has always been about who can compete for two to three hours, jump the highest with wind conditions and [other elements]. It ends up being mental and not physical, whereas today was physical. It was cool to see [pole vaulters] could do both."

At the moment, nine competitions in the 15-meet Diamond League season have either been postponed, rescheduled or minimized.

The Bislett Games in Oslo on June 11 has been rebranded as the "Impossible Games" and turned into an exhibition event. Organizers have said the meet would still offer prize money from a $50,000 US contribution by World Athletics. It will feature Norwegian 400 hurdles world champion Karsten Warholm attempting a world record in the rarely raced 300 hurdles.

With files from CBC Sports and Reuters

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