(ATR) Live broadcast sports returned with the Ultimate Garden Clash – a creative backyard pole vault competition between three of track and field’s high-flying stars.
A collaborative effort between London 2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie, two-time world champion Sam Kendricks and new world record holder Armando "Mondo" Duplantis and the sport’s governing body World Athletics, the innovative competition was a race against the clock to see which pole vaulter could clear five-meters (16" 4 ¾’ ) the most times over a 30-minute timeframe.
Each vaulter jumped in the comforts of their own back yards – Lavillenie from his home in Clermont-Ferrand, France, Kendricks from his farm in Oxford, Mississippi and Duplantis from his base in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Sunday's event was streamed live by World Athletics on its YouTube Channel and other social media platforms utilizing three home-rigged live shots and a fourth box showing the current score. Lavillenie, Kendricks and Duplantis each did informal interviews and joked with each other before and after the competition as well asduring a five-minute break between the two rounds.
The French Olympic champion Lavillenie and young Swedish-American Duplantis tied, each with 36 clearances, while Kendricks settled for third with 26 successful vaults. Lavillenie and Duplantis each had one failure during the competition.
A three-minute jump-off to determine a true winner was proposed and debated, but the 33-year-old veteran Lavillenie told the 20-year-old Duplantis that it’s a tie, to which the over-enthusiastic young vaulter begrudgingly accepted.
"I’m done, I don’t want to take any risks," Lavillenie said. "I’ll give Mondo a piece of the gold medal to share."
"No, I want to do the three-minute playoff round," Duplantis argued.
"We can say I’m the first winner and Mondo is the second winner," Lavillenie teased Duplantis.
Fans and a few elite female pole vaulters were tweeting and sharing comments during the competition. Although the three guys appeared utterly exhausted during the latter stage of competition, they still managed to clear every bar except two, Greek Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi suggested that the bar should have been raised higher for the second 15-minute round. Decathlon Olympic champion Ashton Eaton joked about holding a backyard decathlon.
Kendricks, despite finishing third, sailed higher than his challengers on most of his vaults and was the only one without a miss.
"It’s many games in one – it’s really astounding how such a simple competition could become so complex," said the American record holder Kendricks. "It was definitely challenging.
"These guys put their best out on the track – 36 successful jumps in 30 minutes…I challenge anyone on the whole planet to challenge this."
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe commended the three pole vaulters for taking part in what could be the first of more similar home-based competitions with the coronavirus pandemic forcing countless sporting events to be cancelled across the globe.
"I am so proud of these three talented athletes," Coe said. "This is a brilliant initiative, great fun and really innovative. My thanks go to them, their families and the World Athletics team for bringing live athletics during lockdown."
Lavillenie, who is aiming to compete at his third Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, said training for an actual event during the world sports lockdownwas highly productive and beneficial.
"I was really missing the feeling I get competing – it’s crazy but even doing this in my garden, I get the same feeling I’d get at a major championship," said the Frenchman. "It was exciting and I’m very happy to be a part of it. I’m not going to do it every week, but I’m happy to do it once a year."
"I hope we can bring a few more events like this to all the athletics fans out there," Coe said. "Thank you to all of them and all our athletes staying home and training hard, for watching."
Perhaps the unique backyard pole vault competition will be a model for similar competitions to follow. A potential garden shot put was thrown out there as a future possibility.
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli from his home in Prague
Follow Brian on Twitter - @Brian_Pinelli
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