The pole vault world record, a family affair

In the family of Armand Duplantis, the new star in athletics who has just erased the world record for pole vaulting, we ask … mom and dad. Swedish by his mother (he runs under the maternal flag) and American by his father, the young athlete comes from a couple of top athletes. The former, Helena Hedlund, had a successful career in heptathlon, while the latter, Greg Duplantis, crossed 5.80m on the pole and represented the United States at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

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The new boss of the world pole, who will jump on the saltire this Wednesday, February 19 at the meeting of Liévin (Pas-de-Calais), is therefore a son of pole vaulter. Characteristic that he shares with a certain Renaud Lavillenie, holder of the previous world record, himself son and even grandson of pole vaulter.

Many records date from the 1980s

This genealogical point has not escaped the attention of Professor Jean-François Toussaint, renowned sports physiologist. “We can talk about” Duplantix “as we talked about” Lavillenix “, explains the scientist. Like Obélix, these two boys fell into the pot when they were little. “

This joke is not entirely one, since it partly explains, according to him, the feat of the young Swede, who has just beaten the world record twice (6.17 meters on February 8 and 6 , 18 m a week later), while this type of exploit is becoming increasingly rare.

In athletics, many records date from the 1980s, especially in throws and jumps. The men’s high jump bar remains blocked at 2.45 m since the mark established in 1993 by the Cuban Javier Sotomayor. Same thing in height or in female pole. In the men’s pole, the Ukrainian Serguei Bubka, the first man to cross the 6 meters, has long been alone at these heights.

Global performance slows

“Man has reached his limits in many areas, the progression of life expectancy has slowed down, we are no longer progressing in size … It is normal for the sports world to be won over by this slowdown, except in very specific cases “, continues Professor Toussaint. And these conditions apart relate to pole vault, a discipline that does not correspond to any natural movement of man, unlike running, length, or even different throws. “We can say that one does not become a pole vaulter if one is not born a little pole vaulter”, continues Professor Toussaint.

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The slowdown in performance makes the top of the pyramid even narrower, and it appears that champions are increasingly sons of champions. A 2018 study by scientist Juliana Antero argues in this direction. After observing the genealogy of the 125,000 athletes who participated in the Olympic Games between 1896 and 2012, she established that having a medalist in her family increased the chance of being on a podium by 40%.

“Jumping is second nature to him”

Is genetics the only cause? In very technical disciplines like pole vaulting, the answer is clearly no. This is in any case the opinion of Maurice Houvion, former pole vaulter and famous French trainer – in particular his son Philippe, fourth at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. I’d rather talk about natural skills and culture. Armand Duplantis as Renaud Lavillenie always saw their father jump, they had a jumper in their garden, it allowed them to acquire very young the automatisms and the mental strength which is essential in this dangerous discipline “, he explains.

Armand Duplantis, with a “normal” physique (68 kg for 1.81 m) but who runs the 100 m in 10 s 50, gleaned in the family garden the absence of apprehension. And acquired, through hard work, an irreproachable technique. “Jumping has become second nature to him, continues Maurice Houvion. Duplantis is still very young, 20 years old, and it is not clear where he will stop. 6.20 m surely, perhaps beyond. “


The price of the centimeter

In addition to the entry bonus, traditionally paid by the heads of major athletic meetings to the stars of each discipline, Armand Duplantis has already monetized his two successive indoor world records, 6.17 m on February 8 in Poland and 6, 18 m on the 15th, in Scotland.

According to a tradition established by the Ukrainian Sergei Bubka, each additional centimeter crossed is remunerated. Armand Duplantis twice won $ 30,000 (€ 27,000), paid by the organizers of the Polish and Scottish meetings. It will be the same in Liévin (Pas-de-Calais), this Wednesday, February 19, if it clears 6.19 m. Or in Clermont, Sunday February 23, during the All Star perche, meeting organized by the local Renaud Lavillenie.

This sum represents less than half of what Sergei Bubka earned with each record, and should therefore climb very quickly again.


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