When Mondo looks back and remembers that since he was a child he only wanted to be like his idol, Renaud Lavillenie, an image comes to him: Berlin 2018, the moment that marked a turning point in his sports career. Armand, Mondo, Duplantis, barely 18 years old, surpassed the French world record holder (6.16m) who had won practically everything up to that moment, and was proclaimed European pole vault champion with a 6.05m jump. Nobody except Sergei Bubka, the myth of Donetsk, had jumped so much in the open up to that point. It was the highest final in history and the takeoff of a very young legend. "Without that final in Berlin I would not be where I am now," says Duplantis, 21, two world records, world star of athletics, favorite for gold in his first Olympics (pole qualification, 2.40 on Saturday July 31; final, 12.20 on Tuesday, August 3).
"Everything happened in the blink of an eye," reflected Duplantis this July at the Diamond League in Stockholm. The first time the Swedish-American prodigy competed against the best was in 2017. He was 17 years old and had already managed to jump 5.90m, a height that on the pole makes a natural selection between the very good and the best. And there was Mondo, in Eugene, taking on the world record holder, Lavillenie, and Sam Kendricks, the American who is now a double world champion. Four years and 22 duels later, they both arrived in Tokyo with more ambition than ever. They both used to fight for gold. This time they can probably only aim for silver, and not both. Kendricks has tested positive for covid. “To be on the medals I will have to push myself to reach new limits. I know that Mondo is going to be unbeatable,so we are going to have fun, "said Lavillenie in Stockholm.
"Everything has happened in the blink of an eye", says the relay of the mythical Sergei Bubka
Mondo's progression has been meteoric. After the historic Berlin Europeans, he was silver at the Doha World Cups in 2019 with 5.97m. He dropped out of college, where he was studying business administration, and turned professional. Soon after, he was breaking the world record twice. “He has progressed very fast, even more than I expected,” says his father, Greg Duplantis, a 5.80m American expert follower who, together with his mother, Helena Duplantis, a former Swedish international heptathlete, has trained him since childhood. “In Doha I was a bit tired and lacked training, but afterwards my physical preparation improved a lot, that was the key. When the 2020 season started, before I went out to compete for Europe, I called Steve Chappell, the manufacturer of the UCS Spirit poles, and said: I think he is going to try to set the world record. "
After the first attempt in Düsseldorf his confidence increased so much that Duplantis asked Chappell for two harder poles. "Send them to Europe," he said, and his mother, Helena, brought them down from Sweden to Torun (Poland). In the city of Copernicus, in February, he broke the world record for the first time: 6.17m. A week later, in Glasgow, a new record: 6.18m. In September of that same year, he surpassed 6.15m in Rome, erasing by one centimeter the outdoor record that Bubka had owned since 1994. He made it clear to the world and to history that no one, indoors or in the treacherous conditions of the outdoors, he was able to fly higher.
Despite the stoppage caused by the pandemic, in 2020 Duplantis jumped ten times over six meters.
"That shows that it is not something anecdotal, no one, not even Bubka, had jumped that height so many times in the same season," said his father after Rome.
“Everything has turned out very well.
Despite the pandemic and what was happening in the world, I have been able to continue making good jumps ”, admits the Swede.
"He is unique because of his intuition, he knows how to jump in a thousand ways", explains an expert
Jump six meters like it's nothing.
When Mondo picks up a pole, he knows exactly what to do.
" says his father.
It is a kind of sixth sense for this discipline that elevates it to heights unattainable by others.
Steve Chappell, who made him his first pole when he was about six years old, a Spirit the size of a fishing pole, calls it intuition. “In the air he rises much higher than Bubka, even though he doesn't grab the pole from as high up as others. He is fast, but he is not the fastest peg player ever seen in history. What makes him unique is his intuition, he knows how to jump in a thousand different ways and he knows at all times what he has to do. I had never seen anything like it".
Maybe because no one started bending a pole before him.
At the age of four he was already jumping in the garden of his house.
There, in Lafayette, Louisiana, United States, the Duplantis family had a mat where Mondo watched his older brothers, Andreas and Antoine, jump.
I wanted to bend the pole like them.
His father called Chappell, who made the genius his first instrument: less than ten feet long, extremely fine and flexible.
“The degree of flexibility of that pole was a new field of investigation for us.
We did not know that there were such young children doing this sport ”, recalls Chappell from the United States.
"He has progressed very fast, more than expected," says his father
At the age of seven, Mondo was already participating in the famous Reno rally. "It was one of the few meetings I could go to because at that age there were hardly any competitions for me," says Duplantis. From the age of seven to 12 he broke all the world records of his age: 2.33m, 2.89m, 3.20m, 3.86m, 3.91m, 3.97m… People came to ask for autographs.
And he asked Renaud Lavillenie for them. At that same rally in the Nevada capital, Mondo met the Frenchman in 2013. No one has influenced Duplantis' sports career like him. Mondo had a poster of the French record holder in his room, his idol, the fire that has fueled an ambition without limits, the mentor who transmits his strategic vision to him in so many competitions, the rival with whom he shares training, the obsession for the same sport, a special friendship. "At the time, I was in the 3.90 meters, recalls Duplantis. I admired him because he was on top of the world and he was the one who dominated the pole, and I wanted to be there. And today,
here we are
In Sweden they stop him on the street to take pictures with him. Since he was little, Mondo spends summers in Uppsala, a small university town near Stockholm where his mother, the heptathlete, has trained since the age of 17. That bond led him to decide to defend the colors of Sweden in 2015 and now, when he jumps in Stockholm, the stands go crazy hearing him speak in the local language. When asked there how he is managing all that media maelstrom, Mondo, an Icarus without wings, the pole is good for him to fly, he responds with his feet on the ground. "Sometimes I feel like everything has happened too quickly," he says. "I am still a child, and I would like to continue being one but I can't."
There is a before and after for Duplantis in the world of the pole, not only because of the records, but also because of the consistency and ease that he demonstrates over heights almost always impossible for everyone else. And his rivals know it and despair and admire him. In Stockholm, of the 21 jumps over six meters that Mondo has accumulated since 2018 (Bubka, in his entire career, did 46), Kendricks and Lavillenie highlighted one: the 6.00 m in the rain last June in Karlstadt. "My best jump in the rain is 5.74," Kendricks said. “That of Renaud, 5.86. We remember these things because they are memorable moments for peers ”. “Mondo walks on water, he does what he wants. I'm really impressed, ”concluded Lavillenie.
Born to Fly
, born to fly, as the documentary about the Swedish star who is about to finish his Lafayette neighbor Brennan Robideaux says, but with his feet on the ground.
Mondo Duplantis never underestimates his rivals and knows that the pressure he felt this July in Stockholm trying to make a third world record in front of his entire family is only going to be comparable to what he experiences and is able to dominate in Tokyo.
Of all the aspects that make him a great peer, his father highlights his mental strength: "Mondo is strong and has very few limits."
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