11 Februari, 2020

Armand Duplantis...in his own words

  • © Wanda Diamond League

  • © Victah Sailer

Swedish-American sensation Mondo Duplantis made history again last weekend as he broke the pole vault world indoor record in Poland. From the pole vault pit in his back yard to dinner with Renaud Lavillenie, the 20-year-old's past interviews are a fascinating insight into his rapid rise to the top.

Duplantis, now 20, has been pole vaulting since he was still in nappies, and breaking records for nearly as long. As a child, he turned the world of vaulting upside down, setting new world bests in every age group from seven to 13. 

The Louisianian, who has competed for his mother's homeland of Sweden since 2015, has been a regular fixture on the Diamond League circuit ever since 2017, the year he first came up against his idol Renaud Lavillenie. 

Since then, he has spoken to the Diamond League cameras on numerous occasions, giving us rare insights into his loves and hates, his ambitions and fears, and his life as the most precocious young talent currently plying their trade in track and field. 

With Duplantis having broken Lavillenie's 2014 world indoor record in Torun last weekend and established himself once and for all as a superstar of the sport, we thought it was about time we revisited some of our old interview footage. So here he is: Armand "Mondo" Duplantis...in his own words. 

"I want to be the GOAT"

Young Duplantis has never been short on ambition. In one of the first interviews he ever gave on the Diamond League circuit, the then 17-year-old gave us an idea of how he saw his career progressing over the next few years.

"Before I retire I want to be the best pole vaulter who ever lived," he shrugged. Nothing too difficult then. 

By that point, the teenager had already established himself as the best ever in almost every junior age group, but why rest on your laurels when you can dream big?

"I don't care right now about being the best 17-year-old ever...I want to break the world record, win Olympic gold and win World Championship gold," he said. 

Three years later, he has already chalked off one of those life goals. A podium finish in Doha last autumn bodes well for the next World Championships, and as for the Olympics...Tokyo is now just 163 days away. 

"I have a pole vault pit in my back yard"

Now if anyone is already slightly daunted by Duplantis' burning ambition and rapid career progression, console yourself with this thought: the man did have a bit of a head start.

"I have a pole vault pit in my back yard. I have had it since I was...three years old, four years old?" he told us in 2018. 

Duplantis' father was also a pole vaulter by trade, and young Mondo has been bombing down the runway for longer than he can even remember. 

The backyard pit was no doubt the foundation stone for his success, but as he tells it, it was far from uncontroversial. The brick wall next to the pit had to be padded over for safety reasons, and the neighbours also needed a bit of persuading.

"They were always worried I was gonna jump and land in their yard and then they'd be liable for my injury or something," he chuckled. A careful appraisal of Duplantis' technique, however, would have put their minds to rest.

"I knew I was doing enough to not land in the garden for sure."

"Then I'm at Lavillenie's house having dinner"

Duplantis spent much of his youth watching pole vault videos on YouTube, and from the age of about 10, he started to take notice of one athlete in particular: French vaulter Renaud Lavillenie. 

Mondo was 12 when Lavillenie won Olympic gold in London, and 14 when the Frenchman broke the indoor world record with a jump of 6.16m in 2014. 

That was the record which Duplantis himself would later better by a centimetre in Torun, but he insists that without Lavillenie's example to follow, his own dizzying 6.17m mark may not have been possible. 

"He's short, he's really fast but he's not the strongest person ever. The energy he puts into every jump, that was an inspiration for my technique," Duplantis told of his of his idol in 2018. 

"He showed everyone you don't have to be this real physical specimen to break the world record and win the Olympics."

So enamoured was he of Lavillenie that Duplantis spent much of his teenage years working out how high he would have to jump by what age in order to compete with the Frenchman before he retired. "Then in the blink of a eye I a competing with him at Prefontaine for the first time, and then I'm at his house having dinner," he remembered.

 

"The tap water in Sweden is really good"

That meeting with Lavillenie in Eugene was Duplantis' first appearance on the Diamond League circuit.

He notched up a respectable fourth-place finish with 5.71m, but it wasn't until the following year that the young Swedish-American claimed his first ever Diamond League victory. 

Fittingly enough, that win came on (sort of) home soil at the Bauhaus Galan in Stockholm. His 5.86m jump was his best on European soil until that point, and set the scene for his astonishing six-metre European Championship triumph in Berlin later that summer. 

In Stockholm that year, he told us that the choice to compete for Sweden had been an easy one. His mother, Helena Hedlund, had been a heptathlete for her home nation and Duplantis' older brother had also chosen the country of his maternal ancestors.

"My mother competed for them when she was in Sweden...and my old brother whow as a role model for me he competed for Sweden."

Besides, he told us, being in Sweden more often has its benefits. 

"The tap water is really nice here," he said. "No it is. It is nice. It's like spring water."

"Ever since Cali..."

Mondo's first ever appearance in the blue and yellow of his adopted country came at the Youth World Championships in Cali in 2015. 

It would prove to be a defining moment in the young vaulter's career, as he claimed gold on countback with a championship record of 5.30m, his first major international success. 

That performance, he told us, set the tone for all his achievements since. 

"It was that moment in Cali where I realised I had the potential to break the world record or win the Olympics."

As we say, the world record is now already in the bag. But there are two titles up for grabs this year that the 20-year-old is yet to get his hands on. One is the ultimate prize of Olympic gold, and the other is the title that his idol Lavillenie has won more times than any other athlete: the Wanda Diamond League.