By Mikhil Bhat/Doha
Almost a year ago, at the Khalifa International Stadium, Anzhelika Sidorova of Russia and Sandi Morris of the US were locked in a thrilling battle of who-blinks-first in the women’s pole vault finals at the Doha 2019 World Athletics Championships. The two had cleared five heights right up to 4.90m on their first attempts.
As the drama unfolded on September 29, 2019, the men’s world champion Sam Kendricks sat in the audience with 19-year-old Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis by his side.
“Sandi and Sidorova were going toe-to-toe, and they both struggled when they hit 4.95m,” Kendricks reminisced yesterday ahead of the Doha Diamond League event, which will be held at the Qatar Sports Club today.
“I turned to Mondo, with Nick Hysong, former Olympic champion sitting in front of me and Renaud Lavillenie, former Olympic champion sitting behind me. ‘Hey Mondo, we will never be as even as we are now in this competition. What would you do if we tied?’ And he got this pinched look on his face of revilement, almost saying ‘how could we do that?’
“What if we got to a jump off, we are at the end of our ropes, the bar is at 6.02, and we couldn’t do anymore. What if we shared a gold medal? I love competition but wouldn’t it be a memorable championship in history — two guys go all the way to the distance, they do as much as they can, and they share the gold medal, and share the top of the podium.
“He didn’t go for it. Last night, sitting in my hotel room, I was reminded we are not as even as we were last year, and so now I am going to be the guy that doesn’t want let it lie, if it comes to a tie.”
Two days after Sidorova won the world title as a neutral athlete, Kendricks (5.97m) won the men’s gold ahead of Duplantis (5.97m) on a countback.
Since then, Kendricks has breached 6m twice, once indoors in February this year, and then earlier this month outdoors in Lausanne.
His Swedish opponent on the other hand, has set a new world record twice indoors, in Torun (6.17m), Poland, and Glasgow (6.18m), Scotland, and has flown past 6m 10 times this year.
Sergey Bubka’s outdoor mark of 6.14m stood for 26 years till, last week in Rome, Duplantis went 6.15m.
“There is no stopping the youth from getting better. The very fact is a new expectation has been set. If you want to play this game against Mondo, you have got to come ready to play harder than anybody in history,” 28-year-old Kendricks said yesterday.
“And it’s sometimes scary to accept that I might have to be better than all of my forebearers just to get some play in this game. If you are not ready for that, you are not going to find yourself on the track in Doha, that’s for sure.”
With Diamond League curtailed down to four events, with the Doha leg the final round, Kendricks referred to it as the “de facto Diamond League championship”.
Lavillenie too will line up today in the competition, where the meet record of 5.82m from 2013 by Greek Konstantinos Filippidis looks very threatened.
“In the past, every year has had a looming championship or two, or maybe three. In 2016, there were the World Indoors, Olympics and the Diamond League final. So I had that in mind, I can’t go with reckless abandon here, because I have to be there. Not so this year,” Kendricks said.
Later yesterday, in a virtual press point, you almost missed the crumbs of his confident state of mind as Duplantis smiled when asked about performing in front of an empty stadium. “It’s tougher, but I jumped 6.15m last week in an empty stadium,” he grinned.
“We are competitors, and if all the guys out there compete against each other, we can make special things happen,” he said.
Talking about his duel with Kendricks at last year’s Worlds, Duplantis said, “This is a special feeling, it was just a crazy championship overall last year. It was my first time in Doha, looking back at it, I would have loved to get the gold of course but at the time I did everything I could. It was just one of those exhilarating competitions that you don’t get to see all the time. So yeah, it is nice to get that rematch back, since we had such a crazy battle last year.
“We have a lot of great jumpers tomorrow. You can’t underestimate those guys. Those guys can jump great any given day.
“I have never jumped at this venue, so I don’t really know what to expect. That’s been the case for a lot of the meets this year in new scenarios, new scenery for me.”
Asked how would he like to end the season, words worthy of at least a drumroll simply slipped out: “with a bang”.
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