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Mondo Duplantis interview: ‘I can’t be Usain Bolt but can be the best pole vaulter who ever lived’

·4-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

It flits between fast forward and slow motion, the moment Mondo Duplantis vaults higher than any human has ever done before.

And twice in the space of a fortnight he achieved the sensation, first clearing 6.17metres in Poland and then 6.18m in Glasgow before the first lockdown kicked in, and his soaring for new heights was brought crashing back down to earth.

“It’s a little bit of both — fast and slow,” he said of his record-breaking antics. “It’s over in an instant but also, when it happens, you know it’s happening but you don’t believe it’s happening.

“I know what I need to do to make these heights and break the world record but, when things actually go the way you planned, you kind of don’t believe it as you’re going over the bar.”

Landing on the mat on each occasion, the reaction was different. In Torun, the emotion was overwhelming as he hugged anyone in his range and vision and was generally “screaming and going crazy”. In Glasgow, as he puts it, the celebration was more “showboaty”.

Duplantis’s ability to push the boundaries beyond any other have inevitably led to the Usain Bolt comparisons in a sport screaming out for a successor to the Jamaican sprinter.

The USA-born and based Swedish vaulter was World Athletics’ male athlete of the year and is a colourful character to boot.

Of the comparison, he said: “I can only be who I can be. I can’t be Usain Bolt, we’re different people and do different events, so it’s hard to compare us. But what I want to be is the best pole vaulter that ever lived.”

Some would argue the 21-year-old — the same age as Bolt when he first broke the 100metre world record — already is, but Duplantis is adamant that accolade still rests with Sergey Bubka.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Prior to the lockdown, Duplantis never thought of himself as a much of a showman until the crowds were taken away, and he realised quite how much he fed off an expectant public.

But he credits the initial enforced break in both competition and training for reinvigorating his appetite for the sport he first took up as a three-year-old.

He flew back to the family home in Lafayette to be reunited with the homemade pole vault set-up where he originally learned his craft, complete with the neighbour’s brick garden wall situated perilously close to the landing mat.

“It was a little bit of a project restoring it,” he said. “But it was a really humbling experience. You realise where you come from and why I do what I do. I love pole vaulting and feel like I got to rekindle that love I had for it again.

“I felt like a kid again, there were no worries, I wasn’t training for the Olympics, I was just trying to get over the bar and have a great time. It was just me as a young kid visualising being Renaud Lavillenie going for the world record. It made me realise a lot of the stuff I’d dreamed about had come true.”

From lockdown to now, the focus has almost been entirely on Olympic gold in tomorrow’s final, his cause eased by the USA’s Sam Kendricks withdrawal following a positive Covid test.

“It’s the hugest platform of athletics and I dream of a world record at the Olympics,” he said. “One jump can change a lot of things in someone’s life. I know I’m capable of great things. I could jump really high and break world records and push boundaries that no man has gone into.

“I have to think about the gold, but that’s the same in every competition. I know I can come away with the win whatever the competition. Second place in any competition is disappointing.”

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Duplantis knows full well he is a beacon of hope in a sport looking for that next superstar, as well as for more positive headlines than those to have befallen athletics in its more recent past amid a flurry of doping.

He has heard the suggestion that all athletes are cheats, which grates.

“The generalisation does, because athletes are separated by their different events,” he said. “If distance runners or sprinters get caught, it doesn’t pertain to my event. If I see a failed drugs test in a sprinter, I don’t think it’s right but also I’m not super angry about it as it doesn’t directly affect me. If it was someone beating me, it would be different.”

Defeat is not something that Duplantis has experienced m

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