Mondo Duplantis has spent 2022 collecting gold medals and world records and here we look at what makes him so brilliant
The phrase “raising the bar” could have been coined for Mondo Duplantis. Doing precisely that is all part of the day job and something the 23-year-old Olympic, world and European pole vault champion has become exceptionally good at. Nobody has done it better – and it led to, among other things, him being named AW international male athlete of 2022.
But why? Given that Duplantis makes the art of propelling oneself to truly great heights so easy, we went in search of some expert opinion to discover the ingredients which all add up to make the American-born Swede such a force of athletic nature.
Scott Simpson, former international pole vaulter and coach to Olympic bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw, was just the man for the job and he reveals that the devil is in the detail.
Three key differences
“Mondo’s speed on the runway is almost unprecedented,” says Simpson. “The speed that he puts into the take-off at the end of the approach run is higher than we have seen from anybody else previously.
“In addition, the guys that have had good speed at take-off typically don’t complement it with on-pole technique which is as good as the slower guys, but Mondo manages to do both.
“He puts a lot of speed through the take-off point but also has incredible on-pole abilities for the speed at which everything is happening – something that is quite unique to him.
“He is also so consistent. He has this huge toolbox that he has built up from doing pole vault from such a young age, which enables him to produce a really consistent output.
“Regardless of whether there’s wind, rain, high pressure, a competitive environment or him jumping on his own – it doesn’t seem to matter because he still produces this incredible output.
“It is a combination of those three factors which make him incredibly difficult to beat just now and leaves him, ultimately, head and shoulders above everyone else.”
Why speed matters
“The more speed you have, the higher the amount of energy you have available to you. Pole vault is an energy storage game. You store energy in the pole as it bends, and the more energy you can store in that pole, the more energy there is that can be returned to you to propel you into the air at the end of the jump.
“That is his gift, to have this incredible amount of speed that he is able to transfer through the take-off and store in the pole. And because his on-pole technique is also so brilliant he absolutely gets all of that energy back out of the pole.”
An ultra competitive edge
“The times that I have listened to [Mondo’s parents and coaches] Greg and Helena speak about Mondo, they speak about his competitiveness, which he has had from a young age, growing up with two brothers and a sister. There is also a real determination to be good at pole vault.
“I’ve heard them tell stories about having to go to his room and drag him off YouTube at midnight when he was watching pole vault videos! He has had an obsession with it and that competitiveness, irrespective of what he’s doing.
“That creates a mindset that is very difficult to beat. When he doesn’t do as well as he would like you can see that frustration in him, which is fascinating to watch.
“I think there is a mental component to it as well but his physical ability and his technical ability as a pole vaulter are almost unprecedented.”
Room for improvement
“There are some things that he does technically which are difficult to understand. There are some things, unique to him, which we have not seen done the way he does them and still produce success.
“If you look at Vitaliy Petrov and the work he did with Sergei Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva, Mondo doesn’t do all those things and Petrov would argue that if Mondo did things differently, technically, he would jump a lot higher.
“But, having said that, I think if you tried to change his technique now and mess with things too much, there would be a huge risk that you would make things worse because he has ultimately just found the way that works best for him.
“I’m not sure he could change anything in his technique to make him vault better, but
I would say that there are a couple of things that are not as optimal as they could be.
“An example would be that, when he is putting the pole into the box, he actually drops the pole on to the track in front of the box and it slides in. No one else does that; everybody else drops the pole into the box itself.
“There are some issues about doing that in terms of the postures that it puts you in. You could argue that there’s a deceleration in effect because of the friction between the pole and the ground. There’s also a risk that the pole would jump over the box and not drop down into the bottom of the box.
“There’s absolutely no way you would teach a beginner to plant the pole that way but Mondo has found a unique way of doing it without running into any of those difficulties.
“It’s just a product of learning to pole vault at a very high level from a very young age when it would have been difficult for him to hold the weight and control the pole that he was able to use and to drop it into the box in the conventional way.”
Thriving on the pressure
“He loves it. He’s a showman. He’s not as extrovert as some people would be – for example, if you think back to Usain Bolt and how he used to play the crowd – but Mondo absolutely loves that stage.
“He is often the last one still going at the end of the programme and all eyes are on him. That absolutely brings out the best in him. That is just his character. You can see the showman come out in him when he does something remarkable like breaking the world record and then jumping over a line of cameramen. In Eugene he did that front somersault, quite spontaneously, on the track in front of the crowd. I think his personality embraces the attention.”
Less training during the season
“One thing I find quite fascinating about him is that, during the competition season, he doesn’t train that much. I can only base this on what I hear from him and people close to him but during the competition season he seems just to trust that he’s put in the work during the preparation phases.
“Between competitions he relaxes, plays a lot of golf, allows himself to rest and recover and get into a really good place mentally. Before a championships he will fine tune and do a little bit more preparation but he does little during the competition phase. That is very unusual.”
There’s more to come
“Breaking the world record is not easy. The margin for error starts to get pretty small when you get beyond six metres. We saw that in the length of time it took him to get to 6.19m [he jumped 6.18m in February 2020 before jumping 6.19m in March of this year].
“If he’s going to keep doing it a centimetre at a time and then stopping [like Bubka did], there’s a risk that, like Bubka, he will run out of time to fulfil his potential. You could argue that Bubka could and should have jumped a lot higher that 6.15m if he had not done it the way that he did it.
“My fear is that Mondo might finish up doing the same but, if he really puts himself to it, from what we’ve already seen then something between 6.30m and 6.40m is definitely doable.
“If another male vaulter started jumping around 6.10m and being consistently over six metres, I think that would really push him on.”
The best ever?
“It partly depends on your criteria but, in terms of the number of six-metre jumps, multiple world records, World, Olympic, European champion, holder of all the major titles, I think now it’s beyond dispute.”
» This article first appeared in the December issue of AW magazine