Sam Kendricks celebrates winning the men's pole vault final at the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 01, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
Olympic bronze medalist Sam Kendricks came into these IAAF World Championships hoping to repeat his gold-medal performance from 2017 and become just the second man in history to win more than one world pole vault title.
With one jump Tuesday in Doha, Qatar, he went from third place to first, and after a head-to-head battle for gold with 19-year-old Armand Duplantis of Sweden, he did exactly that. Kendricks, 27, earned his second consecutive world title with a top height cleared of 5.97 meters.
Kendricks said missing twice at a height before clearing on his third try is “not an unfamiliar feeling, because I’ve jumped so much. This is my 30th meet this year. I’ve been there before. I’ve been put to the crux and I’ve failed before. And that just happens. Every competitor, every championship athlete knows that every moment is not going to be his. It might be Mondo’s next time. It surely could be.”
Not surprisingly, the competition came down to Kendricks, Duplantis and Poland’s Piotr Lisek. All three had cleared 6.00 meters this season, so although the podium winners were known early it became a battle to see who would claim each spot.
With the bar set at 5.87, Duplantis went first and missed for the first time. Lisek followed him and also missed. That gave Kendricks the chance to jump into the lead, but he also missed. Duplantis and Lisek were successful on their next attempts, but Kendricks was not. With only one attempt remaining, however, Kendricks cleared the bar with room to spare, and the three moved up to 5.92 meters with Kendricks sitting in third.
Duplantis and Lisek both missed on their first attempts, and this time Kendricks seized his opportunity. He cleared the height with ease to take over first place; Lisek cleared on his second attempt, and Duplantis kept it a three-man competition with his third and final attempt.
“When I lost the lead at 5.87 and jumped alone at the third attempt and took the lead back, that was the most tense,” Kendricks said, “because I knew that this was going to be the point that I went back on the offensive.”
All three men missed their first two attempts at 5.97 meters. With the pressure on, Lisek missed and the bronze medal was settled. Duplantis then cleared, and with everything on the line Kendricks rose to the challenge and cleared to keep it going.
The bar moved to 6.02 meters, and when Duplantis missed with his third attempt the silver medal went to him.
There was no need for Kendricks to vault again, even though he could have taken another try at the height.
“I was at my limit,” he said. “I really was. Every jump was a risk, because we jumped so much. The evening was warm. And when you’re jumping those heights, you’ve got to grab lumber – poles – that you might not touch otherwise. You really need the weight of the moment to bring you into that effort.”
The three medalists performed a celebratory backflip together on the mat afterward.
Kendricks said that while Duplantis is just 19 years old, “He’s 19 with 10 years of pole vault experience, very talented and he’s got a great family. So it’s going to be harder every time, for him and for me, to go for that victory.”
Kendricks set a new lifetime and American mark this season when he cleared 6.06 meters at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this summer. It was the highest outdoor vault since Sergey Bubka of Ukraine cleared 6.14 meters in 1994. Bubka is the only other vaulter ever to win the world title more than once, and he won six between 1983 and 1997.
Kendricks also cleared 5.95 meters and 6.00 meters at different points this year en route to wins in 11 of 16 outdoor competitions.
“The competition tonight is something that you don’t always get the chance to be in,” Kendricks said. “We’ve been jumping together all year long. We’ve been forging each other in this competition to be hard and ready and focused for the championship ever since January. It’s been a long year, yes, but it really is a testament to the strength of these competitors that’s what brings us here to the end.”