World championships pole vault king Kendricks revels in united excellence
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Sam Kendricks offers the firmest of handshakes. A straight back, a steely glare and precisely delivered phrases suggest military man par excellence. He is a commander but in another theatre of war. Following his exploits on Tuesday night in Doha, he’s a double world champion in the pole vault.
He became the first man since the legendary Sergey Bubka to retain a world crown.
He emulated the Ukrainian following a thrilling battle with the 19-year old Swede Armand Duplantis and Piotr Lisek from Poland.
After the skirmishes, the men sat smiling and chatting on the mat where they had been landing for the best part of two hours.
Suddenly the trio stood up, bent their knees and did a synchronized somersault. The crowd roared its approval.
“It was Piotr’s idea,” said Kendricks. “He’s such a showman and gives so much. I agreed because I think it’s the responsibility of the champion to build the fraternity and to give back to the sport.”
There is, however, self-interest in promulgating such esprit de corps. “If I don’t welcome newcomers to the sport and if I don’t make this into an environment I would want to be part of, then we can’t expect great performances.
“And I can’t expect more of myself in the future. We benefit from rivalries. Everyone in the stands gets to see a better competition because we like each other and because I understand that if I may not have it today I’m going to come and get it next time.”
The troika’s tricks were a refreshing contrast to the testosterone fuelled individualism of other men’s events.
Yet organisers of the Diamond League – the most prestigious athletics meetings of the season – are exploring whether to drop the discipline from its schedule.
Kendricks is unimpressed. “They can do whatever they want and that’s they’re right but I think they’d be missing something without us on the field.”
The 27-year-old American’s proof is the quest for the 2019 world championship crown.
Five of the eight finalists - including the 2016 Olympic champion Thiago Braz - were siphoned off when the bar was set at 5.80.
Duplantis and Lisek took two attempts to clear 5.87m. Kendricks fluffed his first two tries but succeeded on his third and final attempt.
He then went over first time at 5.92m to go into the lead. Kendricks held that advantage and was poised for glory but Duplantis went over on his third attempt at 5.97m.
It meant the Swede was in first place. Kendricks had one last chance to dislodge him. He took it to regain supremacy.
It was enthralling fare. Both men could not clear 6.02m meaning Kendricks was champion on the count back - his instant success at 5.92. His was the first of three golds for the United States that evening.
“We put on a great performance,” said Duplantis. “And that’s all we can do. We’ve been jumping well all season. I got it done when it mattered most and I gave it 100 per cent. I’m proud of my performance. I got silver and to be on the podium with Sam and Piotr is an honour.”
Not even 20, Duplantis already boasts the European pole vault crown and a world silver. He appears set fair to dominate.
“Armand’s incredibly talented,” said Kendricks. “And he’s got a great support team. It’s going to be harder every time for him and for me to go for that victory.
"But you need the weight of the moment to bring you into the effort. You need the people and the situation.”
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