Mondo Duplantis, Renaud Lavillenie
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Mondo Duplantis, Renaud Lavillenie share win in backyard pole vault event

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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 16 feet (4.9 meters) 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.

Lavillenie did vault over his 36th successful bar just ahead of Duplantis. 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.

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, Mississippi, 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.

Don’t expect this to be a new pole-vaulting format, though. This was only for show.

“I want to jump high,” said Duplantis, the American-born vaulter who represents Sweden and broke Lavillenie’s world record in February. “I want to jump a little higher.”

Still, it made for entertaining theater.

“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.”

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.”

It’s already a hit among those in the track and field community.

“I love this idea so much,” world 200m champion sprinter Noah Lyles posted in a social media chat room for the event. “It’s such a great new way to compete.”

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Kendricks treated it almost like a track meet as they tried to average a jump per minute. The routine was simple: Vault, walk back with the pole, take a very quick breather — maybe a sip of water — and vault again.

Above all else, it was competition again. The outbreak of COVID-19 has the track and field season on hold.

“I miss the feeling of competing,” Duplantis said. “I miss the feeling of being out there with the guys. It was a really fun time. It was fun to get back into the competition gear again.”

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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