The Pole Vault final started at the Khalifa Stadium in Doha. The twelve qualified finalists arrived at the pole vault area ready to fight for the title of world champion. For some, it was their first final. For others, it was already a huge privilege to be there after a long season. And, for athletes like Sam Kendricks or Piotr Lisek, it was a new opportunity to renew the title.
This final was different from the last few years. New faces and faces are already known were in the final. But there wasn't the main one.
The world record holder Renaud Lavillenie said goodbye to the world championship in the semifinals. An injury just a year ago made the Frenchman take his toll throughout the season, making harder to fight for the only title he doesn't have in his list of triumphs: the World Championship. The possibility to win was gone after knocking down the bar in 5.70, and with it, perhaps, his last chances of achieving it.
La photo résume ma soirée... Depuis les championnats du monde en salle à Doha en 2010, j’ai toujours été en finale... aujourd’hui à Doha, je passe au travers. Malgré des sensations pas si mauvaises, 5m60 au 1er essai, je fais l’inverse ensuite je ne m’engage pas à 570 et me rate totalement. C’est frustrant, rageant, décevant... mais c’est le Sport, c’est le saut à la Perche et il faut l’accepter. Je suis ni le premier ni le dernier à rater les qualifications, ca fait parti du jeu... Maintenant, à moi de rebondir en 2020 pour être meilleur. La satisfaction du jour c’est que mon frère @valentinlavillenie s’est qualifié pour la finale, c’est un grand plaisir pour lui! Merci pour le soutien. On se retrouve en 2020.
The expectation in the stadium was not like other years. The World Cup in Doha is more plagued with criticism than with records. The high temperatures and the low involvement of a minority audience are causing not only that the athletes suffer, but also that the emotion is dissipated with the air conditioning of the stadium.
Although the native public was scarce, the emotion of the foreign fans and relatives gave it a minimum emotion to push the event at the beginning.
The height began at 5.55. All the athletes, except the Swedish Armand Duplantis, who decided to start at the next altitude, passed the first phase.
An extra fifteen centimetres was enough to disqualify four of the twelve participants from the final. Ben Broeders (BEL), Cole Walsh (USA), Augusto Dutra (BRA) and Bokai Huang (CHN) bid farewell to their chances of being near the podium.
The next phase, 5.80, was the definitive one to clarify who was going to be part of the podium. The sieve was led by the Italian Claudio Michel Stecchi, who hardly counted in 5.70; Renaud's brother Valentin Lavillenie; the Germans Raphael Holzdeppe and Bo Kanda Lita Baehre and the Brazilian Thiago Braz, who this season seemed to be reborn from the ashes.
After this final phase, the medals already had names but not final owners.
Compared to the final in London in 2017, Sam Kendricks and Piotr Lisek were once again competing for the medals. However, unlike London, the almost 20-year-old Mondo Duplantis took the baton from his idol and friend Renaud Lavillenie to fight for the medal.
The duel was served.
The three great players of this season were struggling to settle accounts of recent events. The season had been summarized practically in a duel to three. Kendricks had beaten both in Oslo and Zurich and won the Diamond in points; Lisek had had his two best performances: in Laussane he made 6.01, beating the best record of the season, the best meeting record and the national record, and in Monaco he made 6.02, revalidating the titles; and Duplantis had swept the Stanford meeting in Eugene against Kendricks.
It was more than obvious that the excitement was going to be served with the new Holy Trinity of pole vaulting. However, in the first jump, disappointment took hold of everyone. All three missed the first attempt in 5.87. It seemed that the final was going to end soon.
Second attempt at 5.87. Lisek overcomes it. Duplantis overcomes it. Kendricks knocks it down. The current world champion winner seemed to be even further away from the possibility of defending the title. Third attempt. Kendricks returns to the game.
The competition turns complicated by 5.92. Lisek and Duplantis do not overcome the first. Kendricks leaves everyone perplexed with the jump after his attempt at 5.87. Polish risks. He decides to quit 5.92 and pass to the next height. Duplantis tries it for the second time and fails again. Nerves begin to surface. The young Swedish is losing the gold medal. Third attempt. Duplantis returns to the stage.
However, in 5.97, Lisek pays his decision. He takes a risk. Leaving one height and moving on to the next one gave him only two attempts as an opportunity to pass. He risks in 5.97. But he doesn't win. Bronze is for the Piotr Lisek.
The Kendricks vs Duplantis duel was repeated again.
The charisma and talent personified against the child prodigy of the pole vault.
Sam Kendricks was looking to renew the title. At the age of 27, the American reached the final in Doha with a much longer list of achievements than his opponent: Bronze in Rio 2016, two silver medals in the Indoor World Championship and gold in the Continental Cup. He started in the world elite in Beijing 2015, where he lasted in the ninth position, winning the next World Cup with 5.95. His personal best is 6.06, which he had done this season.
Armand 'Mondo' Duplantis, the youngest of the elite pole vault athletes had already made his debut at a World Championship in London 2017 when he was only 17 years old. Although he was only able to beat 5.50, the Swedish athlete was already starting to emerge. A year later, at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin, he proved it. He went from being a ninth classified to become an European champion at only 18 years old. And, if the feat was not enough, he obtained the medal beating several records, like the under-20 world record, jumping 6.05.
And there they were. Two great friends fighting for the gold medal in 5.97. Two mistakes each other made them get closer and closer to the end. But they were resisting losing. Duplantis passed in the third attempt, and Kendricks fought back.
The final decision came with the 6.02, a mark that both at some point in their careers had surpassed by far, but that it could with them. If Duplantis failed all three attempts, Kendricks would again become the world winner. And Duplantis failed them. And Kendricks missed his first two too. But he hung himself the gold medal.
The competition ended with a Mondo Duplantis who accepted defeat proudly. Being a 19-year-old pole vaulter and being runner-up in the World Cup after a sublime season was already a great end for the first great year in his career.
He greeted the public when his great friend Sam Kendricks approached the mattress to embrace him. They looked like two children who had spent the afternoon playing and not competing for the world prize. First and second place sharing hugs. And the third-place wanted to complete the picture. Lisek ran to them and unleashed laughter between the three of them.
A picture that was full of sportsmanship, admiration, and friendship in one of the most important competitions of their careers. A picture that will remain to be remembered. A picture that put the final touch to the best competition of the whole season.