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Kendricks_Sam1c-Pre17.JPGSam Kendricks, (from Pre Classic), photo by PhotoRun.net

Kendricks Tense Vault Chess Match!

August 8, 2017

London, England

The current confederation of the world's elite men pole vaulters is a highly-competitive, yet strangely collegial group. The legion is an assemblage of ambitious, focused, and talented athletes to be sure. But almost to a man, the top performers also possess an authentic and refreshing team spirit: occasionally engaging in friendly banter and encouraging each other onward to clear higher and higher heights. And on a raw and blustery London night, USA's Sam Kendricks - the fraternity's head cheerleader - strung together a magnificent series of jumps to win the world championship.

The weather played a role in the nighttime final. The vaulters could be seen bundling up between jumps to fend off the damp chill. Stocking caps and winter coats were easily spotted within yet another capacity crowd at Olympic Stadium as London's August weather took on a distinctly San Francisco flair.

The 12 finalists got underway with an opening height of 5.50m/18'½" and major casualties came early. 2013 world champion Raphael Holzdeppe no-heighted at the opening bar. And soon thereafter, U.S high school phenom Armand Duplantis - competing for Sweden - went 3 and out at the next height of 5.65m/18'6½ as it was clear that the lean youngster was most uncomfortable in the gusty wind.

Four perfect jumpers - Kendricks, France's Renaud Lavillenie, China's Changrui Xue, and Poland's Pawel Wojchiechowski - were knotted at the top as the bar went up to 5.75m/18'10¼". Defending champion Shawn Barber was among the casualties at the new height while the three leaders plus Piotr Lisek - another Pole - made first attempt clearances.

The competition became more interesting at 5.82m/19'1". Kendricks and Xue kept their cards clean with first attempt clearances. But after failing on their first attempts, Lavillenie - who won his Olympic title in this stadium - and the two Poles all passed to the next height.

Lisek - whose signature pre-vault ritual includes an adrenalin-inducing grimace and roar - made his pass at the earlier height look particularly brilliant at the next bar - 5.87/19'3" - as he moved into second behind Kendricks as those two were the only first attempt successes at the new height. Lavillenie cleared on his second attempt while Wojchiechowski went out. Following 3 misses - his first of the evening - Xue was swiftly transformed from co-leader to spectator.

Only three competitors remained as the officials set the bar at 5.95m/19'6¼. Kendricks, Lisek, and Lavillenie were all guaranteed a medal, but what color? None could clear in their first two attempts. In the third round of efforts - and after Lisek missed and went out - the American, technically sound all night, unfurled a majestic clearance as the crowd roared. What would the London Olympic champion do? Lavillenie could take his third attempt which, if cleared, would move him into 2nd place, but still trailing Kendricks. Or he could pass and take one final crack at possible gold at 6.01m/19'8½. Without hesitation, the Frenchman passed.

After a first round miss by Kendrick at the new height, Lavillenie looked cold and alone on the spotlighted runway as he fidgeted before his only jump at 6.01m. A miss would give him the bronze while a clearance would put him on the threshold for gold. With Kendricks leading the rhythmic clapping to support his opponent, Lavillenie's last valiant effort was unsuccessful and set the medals: gold for Kendricks; silver for Lisek; with Lavillenie taking the bronze.

The medalists revealed their thoughts in the mixed zone. "My main goal this year was to get on the podium - from almost nothing. I missed four months of training. I am very happy to be able to fight until the end," offered a relieved Lavillenie. Lisek revealed his competitiveness. "When I was getting ready for London, I told myself, 'OK, let's fight for fourth, maybe third place.' But when I saw the conditions here, I told myself I must fight for gold. I wanted to beat Sam today but he was stronger and deserves the victory," said the Pole. And Kendricks - whose earlier 6.00 meter clearance this summer is the world leader - was gracious and articulate as ever as he expressed thanks and gratitude. "I have never been in a competition like it. The crowd gave everything in their hearts to support me. After that final jump, I went to give my mother and father a hug. They mean the world to me. My coach and girlfriend were there as well so it was a great moment," explained the new champion. "It is all part of a mission for me. I make a goal and chop it down to make it attainable. I've finally got that world title and I could not be happier. I've enjoyed 10 straight victories this year; it is a blessing to get another today. I compete against these guys all the time so we are no strangers to one another. It was another fantastic competition today and I had to jump high to take the gold."

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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