For Armand Duplantis, the awards and the accolades keep on coming and no doubt even more will be heading in the direction of the precocious Swede who amassed arguably the greatest season in pole vaulting history in 2020.

Duplantis twice broke the world record with clearances of 6.17 and 6.18m on successive weekends during the indoor season before surpassing Sergey Bubka’s outdoor equivalent with a 6.15m clearance in the Rome Diamond League in mid-September. 

And despite a severely abbreviated competitive season, Duplantis cleared 6.00m or higher in a record-equalling 10 competitions in 2020 – a feat which has only been achieved by Bubka and would have surely been surpassed had the coronavirus pandemic not tore the outdoor season asunder.

Duplantis was deservedly named male World Athlete of the Year at the World Athletics Awards which took place in a virtual capacity on Saturday (6). And at 21 years old, Duplantis became the youngest ever recipient of this award which dates back to 1988 in terms of antiquity. 

“This is an award I really wanted,” said Duplantis. “I didn’t think it was possible and it didn’t really cross my mind until after the indoor season and I thought to myself: ‘If I have a good outdoor season, I might be the best athlete in all of track this year.’ To be able to check it off now is a step in the right direction.”

Duplantis became only the second male pole vaulter in history to achieve the trophy, following in the footsteps of his friend, mentor and rival Renaud Lavillenie in 2014 – the year in which the Frenchman broke Bubka’s world record with a 6.15m clearance in Donetsk, a record which has since been surpassed by Duplantis.

“As a younger kid, I’ve always looked up to Renaud and to accomplish the things he’s accomplished so to be compared to him is always a good thing in my mind,” said Duplantis, who achieved three of the four highest vaults in history in 2020.

For Duplantis, he looks back on his first world record with the greatest degree of pride. This was the culmination of a dream he has harboured ever since he took his formative steps in the sport on a pole vault runway in the garden of his family house in Lafayette, Louisiana in the United States. 

Having broken virtually every significant age-group record there is to break from the age of seven, Duplantis took ownership of the world senior record with a second-time clearance at a vertiginous height of 6.17m at the Copernicus Cup in Toruń on 8 February.

“It’s hard to not say the first world record – it was just a special feeling,” said Duplantis, reflecting on his superlative season. “I’ve always wanted to be the world record-holder and I knew I was capable of it and to be able to make it happen was such a huge goal of mine ever since I was so young. It’s still so surreal. Going from not being the world record-holder to world record-holder in a matter of seconds is a crazy thing.”

After a short break after a brief but busy and hugely successful outdoor campaign, Duplantis has resumed his training for the upcoming 2021 season. The reigning European champion is currently residing at home in Lafayette where the temperatures are still warm enough for Duplantis to train outdoors but he will relocate to his European base in Uppsala, Sweden after Christmas ahead of the indoor season.

And while there is still some lingering uncertainty on the composition of the 2021 calendar, Duplantis is giving the European Athletics Indoor Championships, which take place in Toruń on 5-7 March, some serious consideration. With four-time champion Lavillenie and Poles Pawel Wojciechowski and Piotr Lisek – the 2019 and 2017 champions respectively – all due to compete, the men’s pole vault is already shaping up to be the must-watch event of the biennial championships.

“Nothing is confirmed on what I am going to do yet and I am trying to figure out which meets to go to but I would definitely like to see myself back in Torun. It’s a pretty special place to say the least,” said Duplantis.

But the main focus of Duplantis’ 2021 season remains the postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo which are already looming into view in less than eight months time. The date of the Olympic Games might have been moved due to the pandemic but the goal for Duplantis remains the same.

“The Games are the pinnacle of athletics and going into next year, that’s where I want to be in my best shape and try to be on top of the podium. It’s a bummer it couldn’t happen this year but I’m not going to sit here and complain – a lot of worse things happened to other people,” said Duplantis.

Duplantis might already dominate the world all-time list but at the age of 21, he does not consider himself the master of his event just yet, a daunting prospect for his adversaries who are also sporting title-winning aspirations next year. 

“I think there is always ways to improve everything in your jump. I can definitely get faster and stronger and mentally there are always ways to improve. I think there are a lot of things in my jump which I can improve upon. It’s a little game of centimetres,” he said.

 

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