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TEXAS RELAYS

Mondo Raises HS & World
Junior Vault Records

by Lee Nichols

Austin, Texas, March 28-31—Last year, the world champion wasn’t enough to defeat Mondo Duplantis. So this year, the Texas Relays brought the world champion back, and added the World Record holder for good measure.

Duplantis MondoCap

This time they both beat him, but didn’t out-height the senior at Louisiana’s Lafayette High. And they only spurred him on to yet another pair of World Junior & High School Records on a Saturday full of fabulous vaulting that benefited from strong tailwinds.

At 18-9¼ (5.72), the field was trimmed to those three: Duplantis, Canada’s ’15 world champ Shawn Barber, and superstar Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, all on first-time makes.

Duplantis then strategically passed (!) at 19-1 (5.82). Barber had a miss, and after Lavillenie cleared, he too decided to pass.

At this point, meet directors wisely suspended action on the track so that the whole crowd could focus on the magic happening in the northwest corner of Myers Stadium.

The bar now went to 19-5 (5.92), 2cm above the 19-4¼ WJR Duplantis set at last year’s Austin extravaganza. The two older jumpers cleared on first attempts, but Mondo hit the bar twice. Just like last year, he faced the pressure of a third attempt.

The third time was charmed—he brushed the bar but it stayed put (see photo). The vaulting fraternity being what it is, Lavillenie and Barber were quick to rush over and congratulate him.

That would be as high as anyone would go. All passed at 19-7, and all failed at 19-9 (6.02)—a height only 10 men have ever cleared—giving Lavillenie gold, Barber silver and Duplantis bronze.

Clearly, breaking the WJR takes the sting out of not winning, and the crowd left with the impression that he was the star of the day.

“I don’t really care,” Duplantis grinned afterward. He was simply focused on himself: “At 5.92 all my jumps were all good jumps and I could have made them. If I could have made 5.92 on my first attempt, then possibly i would have had a chance at 6.02.

Facing the choice of third-attempt record glory or elimination, Duplantis was unfazed. “It’s the same as every other attempt. If I miss it, I know I’m out. Just maybe a little notch up in focus.”

The drama on the field was almost superseded by premeet controversy. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association actually threatened to strip its wunderkind of his high school eligibility if he competed in the elite division, citing a rule prohibiting preps from competing with adults (apparently last season’s Texas appearance went unnoticed, and he received waivers for the ’17 Worlds and ’18 World Indoor). Eventually, an intense lobbying effort that included some Louisiana state senators convinced LHSAA to see reason, and another waiver was granted.

“I tried not to think about it too much,” Duplantis said. “I tried to just let it handle itself. I don’t think there was really much I could do. I probably wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t in the elite [division].”

Lavillenie was impressed by his young challenger.

“Competing with Mondo is special, because I remember the first time I met him was 2013,” the WR holder said. “He was height like that [holding his hand down low], and jumping 3.80, something like that, and year after year he’s improving. It’s great for him and it’s great for the sport.

“It’s interesting to see him jumping high. Now the most important thing is to be able to jump high in the biggest events. He still has time, he’s still a Junior, he will be able to learn about it.”

Lavillenie was impressed with Texas, as well, saying, “I have friends who train here. They said, ‘You have to go there, you will see, it’s a crazy atmosphere, everything is made for you to compete and be the best.’ … At one point, you say, ‘I have to go there and see it for myself.’ The crowd was amazing.”

Quality vaulting wasn’t restricted to the elite men. In the elite women’s competition, London Olympic champ and American Record holder Jenn Suhr appeared to have turned a corner on recent injury woes with an impressive-looking 15-10 (4.83) victory.

In the college men’s event, South Dakota’s Chris Nilsen—Duplantis’s predecessor as the holder of the HSR—won a 19-¼ (5.80) duel with Southeastern Louisiana’s Devin King, Nilsen’s first-attempt clearance being the difference. It was an =PR for Nilsen and King’s first-ever 19-footer as they now stand =No. 8 on the all-time collegiate list.

The day before and less noticed, Tori Franklin did some list rewriting in the triple jump. She hit the sand at 47-6¼ (14.48), making her the second American performer all-time, behind only Keturah Orji. Lest it seem like a fluke, she threw in an earlier PR of 47-1½ (14.36) as well. She attributed her improvement from a 46-5¼ (14.15) at USATF Indoors to coaching and an improved diet. “I’ve cut down on cake,” she laughed.

On the track (this is a relay meet, remember?) the big stories were the dominance of Houston’s men and LSU’s women.

In the 4x2 and 4x1, Houston twice ran down LSU from behind. In the former, Cameron Burrell ran the second leg and Elijah Hall was the anchoring Tiger-slayer, making up a huge chunk of real estate to secure a 1:21.20–1:21.48 victory. In the 4x1, they switched assiginments, and Burrell nipped LSU by 0.004, both teams timed in 38.92.

Individually, Burrell and Hall notched wins of 10.01w (4.1) and 20.11 (1.6).

LSU’s women fared better than their men—in fact, they were only beaten by themselves. Their 42.66 left Texas A&M (43.28) far behind, and they would have notched a similarly dominant 4x2 victory if not for a dropped final exchange.

The Bengals also went 1-2 in a 100 aided by a 3.7 wind (Aleia Hobbs 10.86w, Kornei Johnson 10.98w). And in the invitational 100 (2.7), teammate Mikiah Brisco’s 10.99w was bested only by Blessing Okagbare’s 10.72w (the =No. 6 world performer ever, under all conditions).

Other fast sprints boosted by illegal winds included Harvard’s Gabrielle Thomas in the 200 (22.13w with a 4.6) and Texas’ Rushelle Burton in the 100H (12.64w with a 3.3).

Officially, the meet drew 45,612 spectators over the 4 days, with Friday and Saturday capping things at 19,058 and 20,704.

© Track & Field News 2018