World-class pole vault competition in backyards proves entertaining

David Wharton
Renaud Lavillenie competes in a backyard pole-vaulting competition on Sunday in France.  (World Athletics)

The sport of track and field found a way to stage a world-class competition Sunday, keeping athletes at a healthy social distance — as in hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart.

The “Ultimate Garden Clash” had three champion pole vaulters square off by video from their backyards on separate continents.

“I was really missing that competition feeling,” said Renaud Lavillenie of France. “It could be crazy, but even if it’s just a garden competition … I get the same feeling like if I was going for the world championship.”

The 2012 Olympic gold medalist shared first place with world-record holder Mondo Duplantis of Sweden in an unusual event with unusual rules.

The vaulters were given 30 minutes to see who could clear the most attempts at about 16 feet. That is four feet lower than Duplantis’ record.

Competing behind his home in France, Lavillenie had constructed a runway between a fence and a kids' swing set. Duplantis had more space outside his parents’ house in Lafayette, La.

Two-time world champion Sam Kendricks jumped amid chickens in the woods of Oxford, Miss.

Sam Kendricks competes in backyard pole-vaulting in Oxford, Miss., on Sunday.  (World Athletics)

“Everything being canceled, it’s tougher to find motivation,” Duplantis said. “It was fun to switch back into competition gear again.”

The event was part skill and part endurance as Duplantis scurried to 18 successful jumps in the first 15 minutes, with Lavillenie trailing close behind. Kendricks tried to pace himself and soon fell back, saying: “It was a great workout. … I caught a stitch.”

His careful strategy would ultimately land him in third place as Lavillenie and Duplantis maintained their hurried tempo, reaching 36 jumps at the end. They decided against a tie-breaker.

“I’m done,” said Lavillenie, who was cheered on by neighbors. “I don’t want to take any risks.”

At a time when sports such as professional golf and NASCAR are plotting returns, track and field got the jump this weekend. Organizers are planning to hold a professional meet in Norway next month with video competition and races featuring only a few runners, separated by empty lanes.

In the meantime, officials hope to repeat Sunday's home format with other disciplines in coming weeks.

“This is a brilliant initiative,” said Sebastian Coe, president of the international track federation. “Great fun and really innovative.”