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Renaud Lavillenie: Out-Vaulting Bubka

A summary of pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie’s track and field career.

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Things are looking up for Renaud Lavillenie, on his way to victory at the 2012 Olympics.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Renaud Lavillenie mastered the fine art of pole vaulting at a young age, then turned promise into gold with a series of impressive victories in his mid-20s, followed by crowning achievements at the 2012 Olympics and at one of the world’s iconic indoor pole vault meets, where the Frenchman made history in 2014.

Breaking the World Record

Lavillenie began the 2014 indoor season with a personal best of 6.03 meters (19 feet, 9¼ inches) an excellent effort, but not one that foreshadowed a threat to Sergey Bubka’s world record of 6.15/20-2. But Lavillenie set a new personal best of 6.04/19-9¾ at a meet in Rouen on Jan. 25, 2014, then cleared 6.08/19-11½ at the Pedro's Cup in Bydgoszcz six days later. After the meet he spoke about possibly breaking Bubka’s record at the World Indoor Championships in March. As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait that long. At the annual Pole Vault Stars meet in Donetsk, Ukraine – Bubka’s home town – on Feb. 15, Lavillenie cleared 5.76/18-10¾ and 5.91/19-4½ with no trouble. He then missed twice at 6.01/19-8½ before succeeding on his third try. As he had in Rouen and Bydgoszcz, Lavillenie then had the bar raised to the world-record height of 6.16/20-2½. With Bubka looking on, Lavillenie cleared the magic height on his first try to set the indoor and overall pole vault world records. "This is a world record that is so mythical, and to clear it on the first jump, without touching (the bar); there's nothing to say. It's just a moment to savour," said Lavillenie after the meet.

Early Years

Lavillenie entered the international scene when he qualified for the 2008 World Indoor Championships at age 21. He didn’t reach the final but in 2009 he showed that he was a rising star by winning at the European Indoor Championships, then taking a bronze medal later that year at the outdoor World Championships in Berlin. Lavillenie topped the 6-meter mark and set his first French national record that summer, clearing 6.01 at the European Team Championships in Portugal.

Staying Near the Top

Lavillenie didn’t separate himself from the rest of the pole vault field in 2010 and 2011, but he remained a top contender in most major events, except for his disappointing failure to qualify for the 2010 World Indoor Championship final. He did win the European outdoor championship in 2010 and took another World Championship bronze the following year, in Daegu. Lavillenie won his second straight European Indoor title earlier in 2011, clearing a then-personal best 6.03. He made his major mark in the new Diamond League series, winning four of the seven meets in both 2010 and 2011 to win the overall championship both years.

Golden Year

Lavillenie made the World Indoor Championship final on his third try, in 2012, after recovering from a broken hand suffered less than three months earlier. He missed his first vault in the final, at 5.60/18-4½, but cleared on his next attempt and later became the only vaulter to top 5.85/19-2¼. He topped out at 5.95/19-6¼ to earn the gold. He won the outdoor European Championships that summer and was among the favorites at the London Olympics. Lavillenie was clean through 5.85 in the final, but missed at 5.91 to fall into third behind Bjorn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe. Lavillenie then turned the tables by clearing an Olympic record 5.97/19-7 on his second try to earn the victory. He capped the year by winning five Diamond League meets and the overall series championship.

Moving Forward

Livillenie won his third consecutive European Indoor title in 2013, and earned his fourth straight Diamond League championship, winning five of the seven meets. As of 2014 the only major title Lavillenie hasn’t won is the outdoor World Championship. He earned his third consecutive World Championship medal in Moscow in 2013, but had to settle for second place behind Holzdeppe. Lavillenie also competed in his first decathlon in 2013, taking 14th place with 6,676 points at the Decastar meet in France. Away from the track Lavillenie, a long-time motorbike enthusiast, qualified for the 24-hour race in Le Mans in 2013, as part of the AZ Motos team. The squad finished in 25th place.

Stats

  • Height: 5 feet, 9 inches
  • Weight: 132 pounds
  • Birth date: September 18, 1986
  • Hometown: Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire, France
  • Personal best: 6.16 meters (20 feet, 2½ inches)

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