PORTLAND: Pole vault stars Renaud Lavillenie and Jenn Suhr lit up the World Indoor Athletics Championships on Thursday (Friday in Manila) as the first major event since Russia was banned got under way.
French Olympic champion Lavillenie produced a display of swaggering brilliance to romp to gold at the Oregon Convention Center.
The 29-year-old from Clermont-Ferrand needed only two jumps to take gold with a clearance at 5.90m before putting the seal on a superb night’s work with a new championship record of 6.02m.
Lavillenie then delighted the Portland crowd with three attempts at 6.17m, which would have broken his own world record of 6.16m, but failed with each.
Yet victory was sweet for Lavillenie as he reclaimed the title he last won in Istanbul in 2012. Injury robbed him of the chance to defend the crown at the last indoor championships in Sopot, Poland two years ago.
Sam Kendricks of the United States took silver with Poland’s Piotr Lisek claiming bronze.
Lavillenie revealed he had been plotting the win ever since his disappointing third place finish in last year’s World Outdoor Championships in Beijing.
“I started thinking about the indoors almost the day after Beijing,” Lavillenie said. “Beijing was a huge disappointment. I wanted to show here that I’m still around.”
Lavillenie drew gasps on his second unsuccessful world record attempt after tangling his feet in the bar and plummeting towards the vault box before adjusting and landing safely.
“It’s not so often I do something like that, but pole vault is sometimes very dangerous and intense, and that’s why we love it,” he said.
Women’s pole vault Olympic champion Suhr had earlier bagged the first gold medal of the championships with a similarly imperious display.
The 34-year-old US star — whose previous best finish at a world indoors was a silver medal in 2008 — took gold with a championship record clearance of 4.90m. Sandi Morris of the United States took silver, while Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece claimed the bronze.
Suhr briefly flirted with a world record attempt but said a sore calf deterred her.
“My calf was pretty tight; I started the season healthy and I want to end the season healthy,” said Suhr.
Road to recovery?
The championships got under way with beleaguered International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Sebastian Coe acknowledging the sport faced a long road to recovery.
Athletics has been rocked by a corruption scandal in the governing body’s leadership and lurid revelations of systemic doping of Russian athletes, who are suspended from international competition and could even be tossed from the Olympics.
“This is an important staging post in the season and it’s an important part of our road to recovery,” Coe said.
Coe said he was confident that reforms to IAAF practices would help to restore faith in the sport as it reels from the worst crisis in its history.
But he warned: “We’re not going to return to trust overnight. You don’t stick 10 dollars in a slot machine and suddenly trust appears in the tray.”
Coe also cast a grim eye over the latest doping revelations to rock world sport, with around 100 positive tests for the newly banned endurance-boosting drug meldonium, the substance which snared tennis star Maria Sharapova.
Athletics has already been tainted by the meldonium scandal, with Ukraine on Thursday confirming that 800-meter runner Natalya Lupu would not compete in Portland after admitting to using the drug.
Coe told AFP he was concerned that the meldonium cases could be part of a wider problem of athletes abusing prescription drugs for performance-enhancing purposes.
“We need to look very closely at that,” Coe said. “But the bigger challenge of course is around the use of prescription drugs if there isn’t an underlying medical condition.”
The first full day of the championships on Friday will see five gold medals up for grabs, with the highlight coming in the men’s 60m.
Other titles to be decided will be the women’s 60m hurdles, women’s long jump, women’s pentathlon and men’s shot put.