After winning Olympic gold and breaking one of the most iconic world records on the books, the next major milestone on the road to global domination for Renaud Lavillenie is the European Athletics Championships.
The flying French pole vaulter has a special reason for wanting to win his third straight European title in Zurich next month.
“For me the Europeans are really important because I am on a good winning streak and if I win in Zurich it will be 20 in a row,” he said. “That’s a personal record for me, and it would be the perfect place to do it. The Europeans is a great competition so I’m really excited to be there.”
Lavillenie’s first European title came in Barcelona four years ago. It was also his first gold medal at any outdoor championships and he went on to add a second European crown in Helsinki two years ago before claiming the Olympic title in London later that summer.
This winter he stunned the whole sporting world when he cleared 6.16m at the All-Stars meeting in Donetsk, stealing Sergey Bubka’s 21-year-old world record from under the great man’s nose in his home country of Ukraine.
It was the culmination of an extraordinary 2014 indoor season in which the 27-year-old vaulted 6m or higher five times and raised the French record three times in three competitions. But he missed the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot with a foot injury, and so the Europeans in Zurich will be his first championship contest since he lost to Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe at the Moscow World Championships last August.
So far this outdoor season, Lavillenie has failed to hit the heights he achieved indoors. His world lead stands at 5.92 from Shanghai in May, but he has not gone over six metres yet.
Not that he is worried about failing again on the championships stage. Indeed, he claims to be saving his big vaults for when it matters most.
“Since Moscow I had a very good indoor season so I am not worried about that now,” he said. “I am just happy to be jumping there and ready for the competition.”
If Lavillenie were to approach his world record he would no doubt be one of the most illustrious stars of the championships.
“I look forward to the championships at Letzigrund Stadium. Zurich is an athletics city, famous for providing athletes with the best possible conditions, and also for celebrating our sport in a very special way,” explained the world record holder and reigning Olympic champion.
“In Zurich, we are very close to the crowd, and their energy is extremely motivating.”
According to Lavillenie, the long run-up track at Letzigrund Stadium is another plus. The track at the most recent world championships in Moscow had been too short for him, one of the reasons he had to settle for silver.
Entering a competition with the favourite’s tag is generally a good sign, however as Lavillenie experienced at the World Championships in Moscow and Daegu two years before that, it can also be overwhelming.
This year two Polish athletes Piotr Lisek and Paweł Wojciechowski, the man who took gold in Daegu, are determined to cause the upset and it will be interesting to see if the world record holder can withstand the pressure.