Armand Duplantis probably wouldn’t have expected to be struggling for motivation two months ago when he was raising the world record in the pole vault to dizzying new heights.
Further attempts on the world record and a prospective assault on the Olympic title in Tokyo surely beckoned this summer after an incomparable indoor season capped by a 6.18m clearance in Glasgow but any such aspirations have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Duplantis might have been equally surprised to find himself living back at the family house only 53 days after concluding his indoor campaign in Clermont-Ferrand but with his training facilities at Louisiana State University closed to prevent the spread of the virus, Duplantis has temporarily relocated from his home in Baton Rouge back to his parents’ house in Lafayette.
The set-up in Lafayette might be rudimentary compared to his regular training environment at LSU but Duplantis does at least have access to a pole vault runway in the same backyard where he took some of his formative steps - and jumps - in the sport.
And while Duplantis’ runway might not be in quite the same condition as the one in former world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie’s back garden which has allowed him to scale 5.85m, Duplantis - once he has cleared the box of any residual rainwater and checked the runway for any snakes - is still able to practice off six steps onto a weather-worn mat covered in dust and pollen. He is also able to trace some improvements too.
“To manage five metres off just six steps is still pretty good. It is a clear improvement on what I did last year. So you can actually see progress,” said Duplantis in a recent interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen.
Duplantis also uses the garden to do free weights and circuits as well as rope climbing exercises which helps him to stay in shape during lockdown. He acknowledges he is in a much better position than many of his rivals in terms of access to facilities but the 20-year-old also admits his motivation has wavered with the Olympic Games postponed and the first half of the outdoor calendar almost entirely cancelled.
“It's hard now,” he said. “There are many mornings when I wake up and I have difficulty motivating myself. What am I fighting for? What do I try to achieve with my training? Do I fight for competitions, what kind of competitions? I don't know if there will be any competitions at all. But I try to plan for success and that everything will work out, even though it may not be so,” he said.
More so than ever, athletes and coaches around the world are reliant on technology to stay in touch but Duplantis still sees his coaches every day. His father Greg and his mother Helena have coached Duplantis since his infancy, taking him all the way from a precocious youngster who broke all the age-group bests through to the world record.
His mother Helena was trackside when Duplantis cleared 6.17m at the Copernicus Cup in Torun to break the world record for the first time and she spoke about the difficulty of planning Armand’s training without any competitions on the horizon to target.
“It is a little difficult to plan the training as there are no Olympics. It was the biggest goal of the year and all the planning for training revolved around being in top form just for the Olympics. We want him not to lose too much fitness so we focus on what we can do in the garden: stomach, arms, jumps when we can,” she said.
But while there might not be any official competitions on the calendar over the next few months, Duplantis and Lavillenie along with reigning two-time world outdoor champion Sam Kendricks have discussed the possibility of arranging a competition in their respective gardens which would be streamed on social media.
The idea is still in the planning stages but if it does materialise, this could help to rekindle Duplantis' motivation as well as giving fans and followers of the sport something to look forward to.