Sam Kendricks

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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World’s best pole vaulters return to unique competition Sunday

Mondo Duplantis
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Pole vault stars Mondo Duplantis, Sam Kendricks and Renaud Lavillenie return to competition on Sunday.

The Ultimate Garden Clash will pit the friendly rivals from their own separate backyards on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET, streaming live on World Athletics’ YouTube channel.

Duplantis, the world-record holder of Sweden, will jump from Lafayette, La. Kendricks, the world champion, from Oxford, Miss. Lavillenie, the 2012 Olympic champion, from Clermont-Ferrand, France.

The unusual format: attempt to clear five meters as many times as possible within 30 minutes.

Normal pole vault competition, where athletes attempt to clear a maximum height, would be hard to pull off due to the need for officials to move up the bars and adjust standards.

World Athletics could hold similar competitions in future weeks.

Track and field’s premier circuit, the Diamond League, has postponed all meets through the first week of June.

A meet in Oslo on June 11 has been restructured, without spectators, with a limited number of athletes (at least one racing solo, chasing a record) under Norway’s coronavirus regulations.

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Noah Lyles, after hardest moments, wins world 200m on triple gold medal day for U.S.

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Noah Lyles made it look so easy the last two seasons, his victories so predictable that pre-race fodder focused not on his competition, but on his socks, his hair and which dance he would perform in celebration afterward.

When Lyles spoke after winning the world 200m title in his global championships debut on Tuesday night, the 22-year-old told a very different story.

“The last three weeks was actually some of the hardest moments of my career. … I felt like I went through the wilderness,” he said after winning in 19.83 seconds in Doha, after training and competing in Europe and then the Qatari capital since early September. “I was isolated from my home, from family. It was just training and eating and sleeping and doing it in another country where people don’t speak your language.”

That is a powerful statement given the life of Lyles, one of three Americans to earn gold on Tuesday. The others were Donavan Brazier, the first U.S. 800m runner to win a world title (and in American record time) and Sam Kendricks, a repeat pole vault champion.

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Lyles was hospitalized as a young child with chronic asthma. He was in tears as a high school freshman, worried that in four years he would be kicked off a college track team because he would fail academically (Lyles is open that he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia and in remedial school classes). He cried again in 2017, when a torn hamstring kept him out of the USATF Outdoor Championships and thus out of the world championships, where he would have been a medal favorite.

Then on Sept. 8, Lyles tweeted that he had been homesick but felt loved for his family sent a care package. Four days later, mom Keisha Caine Bishop tweeted, “When one of your children is homesick in Europe and can’t come home, what do you do? Fly to them with homemade food, gifts, socks and love!”

Adversity was not part of Lyles’ story this season going into Doha. He has lost just once since finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic trials coming out of high school (he turned pro rather than enroll at the University of Florida). He went into Tuesday’s final with the eight fastest times of the eight men in the field.

Yet difficulty was on his mind before the race, when he spoke with Bishop and his brother, fellow pro sprinter Josephus Lyles, to conclude his longest track season.

“Me and my mom, we sat down and we talked about the journey we’ve had,” he said. “We knew that this was it. This is where we were going to prove that we have the spirit, that we have the emotion, that we have the physical toughness to get through this long journey.”

The test came around the curve. In a surprise, Lyles trailed Brit Adam Gemili halfway through the race. He summoned not the flash of power associated with his silver hair (an homage to Dragon Ball Z character Goku), but instead muscled a more prolonged move into the lead. He held off Canadian Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse by .12. Ecuador’s Alex Quinonez took bronze.

“I knew I could swing off and grab that momentum,” Lyles said. “No matter where I was in the race, I will always be able to come back because I’ve been in last place, and I’ve grabbed the win.”

He did, in his slowest time in 10 meets dating to May 2018.

“Closer than I thought it was going to be,” said Lyles, who all year has reminded himself that he would be world champion, either by phone notes or, every day after practice, hitting his car window and repeating, “I’m going to be world champion,” as music blasted, he reportedly told the BBC after Tuesday’s win.

Lyles also revealed that he wanted to run 19.3 seconds, taking his personal best down from 19.5 and perhaps breaking Michael Johnson‘s American record 19.32 from the Atlanta Olympics. And moving closer to Usain Bolt‘s world record of 19.19.

“People are trying to say they want you to run a world record. You’re just trying to win a gold medal,” Lyles said. “This season was probably not my hardest season physically, but my hardest season mentally.”

Lyles, who lacks no charisma or confidence with the word “ICON” tattooed on his side, could not wrap his head around the accomplishment.

“It’s like something you’ve imagined so many times in your head,” he said, “that once you actually achieve it, it’s like, I thought we already did this.”

He also would not allay hype for next year, when Lyles and world 100m champion Christian Coleman are both expected to race the 100m and the 200m, looking to succeed Bolt in pulling off the Olympic sprint double. Lyles said he can still improve, notably in his start and top-end speed.

Around the time of Lyles’ win, Bolt’s Instagram story published a black background with these words in white: “Usain Bolt Who???” That conjured memories of a Lyles Instagram story from late August, when he broke a Bolt meet record and posted an image of himself holding his index finger to his mouth in a shushing gesture with the caption, “Meet Record Bolt who?” Perhaps a little more motivation for 10 months from now.

“On the right day with the right conditions and the right training,” Lyles said, “hopefully a world record will pop up.”

In other Tuesday finals, Brazier broke a 34-year-old American record to become the first U.S. 800m runner to win a world title. Brazier, who clocked 1:42.34 to take .26 off Johnny Gray‘s mark, moved to the lead with 300 meters to go and stretched it out to 1.13 seconds over silver medalist Amel Tuka of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Brazier goes into the Olympic year looking to become the first American to win an Olympic 800m title since Dave Wottle did so wearing a hat in Munich in 1972. Brazier, 22, may have to fend with the return of double Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha, who hasn’t competed in more than a year, partly due to injury.

“I look up to my idol Muhammad Ali, and he won his first world championship at 22 years old,” Brazier told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. Brazier runs for the Nike Oregon Project, whose founder, Alberto Salazar, was on Monday banned four years in a doping case. Brazier, who has a clean record, is coached by Pete Julian, not Salazar.

Kendricks repeated as world champion in the pole vault by clearing 5.97 meters and beating Louisiana-raised Swedish 19-year-old Mondo Duplantis on prior misses. Next year, the first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve will look to better his Rio Olympic finish of third.

Worlds continue Wednesday, highlighted by Rio Olympic champion Omar McLeod in the final rounds of the 110m hurdles.

In non-finals Tuesday, the one-two finishers from the USATF Outdoor Championships, Shakima Wimbley and Kendall Ellis, were eliminated in the 400m semifinals. Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, undefeated for two years, and 2017 World gold and silver medalists Phyllis Francis of the U.S. and Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain reached Thursday’s final.

The women’s 200m final on Wednesday will include none of the reigning Olympic or world medalists. Rio Olympic champion Elaine Thompson was the latest to withdraw before Tuesday’s semifinals, reportedly with an Achilles injury after she placed fourth in the 100m on Sunday. Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest in the world last year, is an overwhelming favorite given nobody else in the final ranked in the top 13 in the world in 2018.

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Doha.

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