Oxford’s Sam Kendricks took a classic SEC rivalry to the world stage on Tuesday and walked away a winner.
The Olympian from Ole Miss successfully defended his pole vault world championship in Doha, Qatar, defeating Sweden’s 19-year-old Armand “Mondo” Duplantis.
Kendricks won NCAA titles for Ole Miss in 2013 and 2014, while Duplantis – who was raised in Louisiana – is the reigning NCAA champion for LSU.
“I am elated, stunned and excited, all at the same time,” said Kendricks, 27, who is a Second Lieutenant in the U.S Army Reserve.
Kendricks is the second man to successfully defend a world pole vault title. The legendary Sergey Bubka won six-consecutive world titles between 1983 and 1997 – the first three for the Soviet Union, the last three for his native Ukraine.
In Tuesday’s final, both men cleared 5.97 meters and failed in their attempts at 6.02. Kendricks won on the basis of fewer failures – four, compared to five for Duplantis.
“We both had 6.02 in our eyes,” Kendricks said. “It was a hard bar to make.”
Kendricks and Duplantis each needed three tries to clear 5.97. Kendricks needed his third attempt to clear both 5.87 and 5.92.
Piotr Lisek of Poland finished third after clearing 5.87. All three medalists had topped six meters this season, with Kendricks breaking the American record with a 6.06 in June.
“To have three men over six meters all going for it – the titans of the event this year – made it such a memorable night,” said Kendricks, who won Olympic bronze in 2016. “We weren’t dueling as enemies but as rivals and friends.”
All three medalists delighted the stadium crowd – and underscored their kinship in the sport – by doing a backflip together after the competition ended.
Kendricks won his first world title in 2017 with a best vault of 5.95 meters.
The reigning Olympic champion, Thiago Braz of Brazil, settled for fifth on 5.70, and world record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France missed the final altogether after being eliminated in qualifying.