These past few weeks, we’ve talked with some of best athletes in the world as track competitions are coming back and Herculis EBS Meeting is around the corner. With World record holder Mondo Duplantis, we’ve talked about the quarantine, about golf, Monaco and his recent World record.
Matthieu: So, where are you now?
A: I’m in Uppsala, in Sweden.
M: Have you been there the whole quarantine?
A: No, I was in Louisiana from March to June.
M: Did you get back here easily?
A: Yeah, I mean, I could get back because I’m a citizen of the United States and I’m a citizen of Sweden, so there was no problem for me to come from the United States to Sweden. But my father, since he is only a citizen of the United States, he can’t even come in Sweden. My mother and my sister are here with me because we are all citizens of Sweden.
M: How has it been, was have you done there outside of track?
A: So, after the indoor season, when I got back around early March, it was just a couple weeks later really when everything kind of started to set into play, this whole thing. So, everything started to close down in Louisiana, the track, the facilities and everything where I was at. I live in Baton Rouge Louisiana, an hour away from where I grew up in Lafayette, where my parents live. Once the college, the university LSU closed down, I moved back with my parents, just to be at home because that’s where most of my friends are, where my family was. So, I moved back with them and just trained in the backyard, where I started. I have like a set-up and stuff and I was pretty much there almost until July, until they started to open some tracks back up. I was there from late March to July.
M: As you trained at home, how difficult was it? You pole vaulters had the ability to adapt. To train or compete at home, you just need a backyard. How important are facilities for your preparation?
A: It’s everything, and you don’t realize how important it is to you until it’s taken away from you. When I arrived here in Sweden, everything was opened and so were the facilities that I needed to do pretty much everything. I realized how much I took it for granted earlier when I had all this stuff. I didn’t realize how good I had it before. You don’t really think about that until you can’t have it anymore. I think that’s just the way life is in a lot of ways.
I was able to stay in somewhat of shape. I mean not in the best form that I think I can be in, of course. But I’m getting there now, after being here and training for a month and a half or so in Sweden. So, I was not in my best form when I got back to competing, I was competing just to get back into things. I knew I was not in a World record shape but it’s getting there.
M: How are you feeling now?
A: I’m feeling good. I feel like I’m getting close to where I want to be.
M: As you’re talking, can you pretty much train like you could before everything happened with the coronavirus?
A: Yeah, now I can. I’ve been training for the past month and a half, which is not too long but it’s something still.
M: You had a pretty busy indoor season. Before all of that happened, what were your expectations like for the summer season? Was it all-in on Tokyo? What was it like?
A: Before the indoor season, I was just trying to jump as high as I could. I just knew I had some high heights in me, and for sure over six meters. My goal for the first meet was to get over six meters and try something higher and that’s what I did. I took a decent shot at the World record and the next week I was able to get it. At the beginning of the indoor season, I was kind of just trying to jump as high as I could and, you know, that was pretty much the goal.
M: When you broke it for the first time, did you actually believe that every jump you’d make at this height, you would have a pretty good chance to make it or was it really surprising for you?
A: Well, I think the most surprising jump I’ve taken is my second attempt at 6.17m in Düsseldorf, Germany. My first attempt was okay at 6.17m because it was higher than anything I ever jumped at. Mentally, it was almost scary and then, that second jump, I took a really close attempt at it. I realized how close I was to making it. Once I realized what I had to do to make it, you know, it gave me all the confidence in the world because I don’t think many people get the opportunity, have the capability to break a Word record, to know exactly what they need to do to do it. And I knew exactly what I needed to do so that was a pretty great feeling going to the next meet in Toruń, Poland. If I do what I know I can do, then I can break a World record.
M: Did you think about it beforehand? Before taking the jump, did you realize all the things that it would involve?
A: I tried not to get so much caught up in the moment, but I remember the first attempt I was super confident, I thought I knew exactly what I needed to do. I thought “I’m going to break it”, it felt really close. And so, the second attempt, I really knew exactly what I needed to do, I knew exactly the adjustments that I had to make so it was almost like “I know that if I go down there, I can do it right now”. It was more like I was trying to calm down and catch my breath because I had time to rest, I had the five minutes. I just wanted to go so bad because I wanted to be the new World record holder and I just knew exactly what I had to do to do it. So really, it was like I was just trying to sit down for a second and catch my breath because I didn’t want to rush it too bad while I wasn’t ready. Mentally, I was so ready for it. The second I stepped in the runway, my body just took over my mind and everything just kind of happened.
M: And what role does the public play in this whole thing? Did you get energy from jumping in this place before you broke the record or did you just focus on the bar you needed to clear?
A: For me especially, I get so much energy from the crowd. When the crowd is giving me a lot of energy, I feel like I can just step up my game a lot. When you take the crowd out of the play, it makes it a little less exciting for yourself. It’s absolutely not as fun. I want people to watch me and to cheer me up and I want people yelling when I’m jumping. Because it just gives me adrenaline, it gives me motivation to get over the bar.
M: You talked about fun and all of this. Do you think it’s harder for you to jump high when, like we see in pretty much every sport right now, you don’t have fans in the stadium?
A: I think it’s harder, absolutely. It’s harder but I think that I can still jump high.
M: We are going to have fans, we work hard for that, we can have up to 5,000 people here in Monaco.
A: It’ll be better than anything that has been done so far.
M: You guys have been creative and found new ways to do track when everything would be cancelled. You guys, in pole vault especially, have been very creative because you could do contests with someone jumping somewhere while the other one was in a stadium and everything. First question is how excited were you to do it because it would still be better than nothing? And the second question is how excited are you to get back to something quite normal as what we are going to host here in Monaco?
A: At the time, the garden and what we did in our homes was super fun. It was pretty competitive and it was something that get those competitive juices flowing again, which was a great creative idea that Renaud (Lavillenie) came up with. It was a great innovation and really entertaining to watch for people because not a lot was going on in the world at that time. But as far as real competitions go, I’m really, really, really glad to get back to a sense of normalcy, and seeing Renaud and everybody in person and competing against each other and getting three attempts to each bar compared to when we had 30 minutes to make as many jumps as we could. I’ve missed real competitions quite a lot actually so I’m glad to get back to that.
M: The pole vaulters that you jumped with are also you friends, I assume. Did you find ways to get motivated between each other?
A: I guess the motivation was just the “Garden Clash” thing that we did. That was just the biggest motivation thing we did because it was just something to keep training and trying to be in shape for. But as far as that goes, you just have to have self-motivation. I didn’t know, of course, but I hoped that there would be some kind of season at the end of the summer so I was just more in the mentality of “whenever things start to come back and meets start to come back, then I would have to make sure I’m ready”.
M: When you did the competition in Karlstad and jumped 5.94m, were you in a competition mode as in “I want to jump as high as possible” did you just do setups?
A: Every meet I do I’m trying to jump as high as I can. I was running from a shorter approach, I couldn’t handle 20 steps, I just didn’t feel physically good enough and technically. I just didn’t have it in me at the time, so I knew that it wasn’t going to work.
M: When you saw, like everybody else, that the Olympics were cancelled, and that a lot of meets were cancelled as well, did you think at one point that you will have no outdoor season or were you hoping for something?
A: I always thought that no matter what, if there was any competition, I was going to compete in it because for me it was really hard to keep everything in shape while I was wondering if whether or not I was going to have some competitions. Because if I had just not competed this summer just because there were no Olympics and no major championships, I would be getting nothing done properly. Competition is what drives me. I want to get out there and compete against everybody and compete against the best. I mean that’s the reason why I do this. I enjoy training but I enjoy training for the fact that I want to get better for the competitions.
M: In that way, how did you feel when you knew that you could come to Monaco, here, in less than three weeks?
A: It’s great because I don’t have any competitions now until Monaco and it’s pretty much my sole focus right now.
M: What are your goals like? You were in the shape of your life during the indoor season and now everything is kind of messed up. You don’t have much competition to know where you level is at, what your form is. Now, is it “In want to win in Monaco because I always want to win when I show up to a competition” or do you have a height that you would like to achieve or is it just going to be “okay, let’s just jump and see what happen”?
A: I mean, absolutely I would want to win. Is Sam going to be there?
M: Yeah, he will be there.
A: So, I will have great competition and I know it’s going to be a good battle out there. We haven’t had a competition in a long time us together since the indoor season. It’s just going to be fun in itself to go out there and just compete against those guys. As far as height goes, I don’t know, it’s so hard to say right now with the lack of competitions and stuff. The main focus especially for this meet is just going out there and being a competitor because we haven’t competed against each other in quite a while.
M: Karsten (Warholm) told us he was playing golf during quarantine, and we saw that you were to on your Instagram stories. Is it something you enjoy doing a lot?
A: I think I was playing more golf than training actually, in March and in the beginning of April for sure. The only things that were opened were a couple of golf courses in the city. That was pretty much my training camp (laughs).
M: What other stuff have you done? What was your life like? Did you watch a lot of movies, did you read books?
A: Pretty much. The thing is that everything was closed, it’s not like me and my buddies could go out and stuff and hit the town. Nothing was opened except for golf courses because that’s a pretty good game when socially distancing. You’re not really close to people. We pretty much just played golf, hung out at the house and enjoyed our families’ company. In my family, we’re not always together all the time so it was nice to have more family time.
M: Did you feel that your life has changed even more since you became the World record holder?
A: Yeah, I get a lot more attention now.
M: How much compared to when you were at the level that you already had? Is it more solicitations, sponsors, media?
A: That of course. But also, more people recognize me, especially here in Sweden. In Louisiana, a little bit and in the United States, not so much. But when I’m here in Sweden, quite a lot of people recognize me. It’s pretty eye-opening and pretty crazy, I never experienced something like this for sure so it’s cool.
M: And, talking about things that you’re looking forward to for the season. Are there going to be more competitions that you’ll sign-up to as they are going to be put into schedule?
A: My schedule is pretty made already. I have Monaco, I have the Swedish championships in Uppsala two days later and then I have a series of five more meets after that too in Lausanne, Brussels, Berlin, Rome and Stockholm.
M: Are the best pole vaulters competing in that too?
A: Some of them, yeah, so it’s going to be very competitive. Anytime we’re up against each other it’s always very competitive. In Monaco, it would be all of us together and in Stockholm and Lausanne too, I think. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, I try to go one meet and the time and right now my sole focus is just on Monaco.
M: Talking about Monaco, what memories do you have here? You were at the World Athletics Awards in 2018 and then you competed here last year. What memories do you have, both on track and outside if you had time to visit around?
A: It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, for sure and without a doubt. It’s such a beautiful place. It’s obviously just great to even be there and it’s a great facility to jump at. You can jump really high and have good results there. I jumped really good last year. Lisek kind of put it down on me, he beat down on me pretty bad, he jumped at 6.02m I think. I know how good of a place it is to jump, so I know that we’ll have good results coming out of there.
M: Every athlete I talked this last couple of days said that the weather here is particularly good for them to perform well. Do you feel that as well?
A: Yeah, I mean nice warm temperature with not much wind is always good. You can’t beat the conditions that you have.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Matthieu FORTIN is a contributing writer for the Meeting Herculis EBS.