On to male vaulters not named Renaud! Though there's one more Lavillenie...
Valentin Lavillenie (FRA), 2012-present
Personal bests: 5.80 (indoors), 5.71 (outdoors)
Meet Valentin! He's 5 years younger than Renaud and also an extremely good pole vaulter. He also arguably got the prettier genes in the family.
Unfortunately for Valentin, even though he's legitimately a good pole vaulter in his own right, being Renaud's younger brother means he's kinda stuck as "le petite Lavillenie". (It doesn't help that at 5'7", he's a couple inches shorter than Renaud, who's already on the short side for a pole vaulter.) A 5.80 personal best is great - except when your big brother can do it with his eyes closed.
Despite this dynamic, Valentin and Renaud are very close, and Valentin's been at Renaud's side his entire career. Until last year, when Valentin struck out on his own for the first time (perhaps to get away from his brother's shadow?), they were training partners. Valentin's also been Renaud's filmographer and cheerleader, taking courtside videos of his jumps to upload to his Youtube channel and always being available for hugs and celebrations after Renaud did another Big Thing.
In Valentin's own career, he's been unlucky to be French. France has a strong history in pole vault, and several excellent vaulters besides Renaud. This has meant in practice that while Valentin would make the team for almost any other country, he's been cursed to almost always be the French pole vaulter who just misses the team for events like the World Championships and the Olympics. (He's also had some bad luck with injuries.) He barely missed out on Rio, despite meeting the qualification height, which has to be especially frustrating since the two guys who beat him out for the two non-Renaud spots, Stanley Joseph and Kevin Menaldo, didn't end up qualifying for the final. (No guarantee that Valentin would have either, of course.)
But there was one time where Valentin did get to go to the World Championships - to Moscow in 2013. Not only did he get to go, he cleared 5.55m in qualifications and made the final! It was very exciting. Unfortunately he then missed all three attempts at the opening height of 5.50m and was the only finalist not to register a mark. He cried. :(
Renaud consoled him as best he could, even though he was getting ready for his own competition (he ended up struggling himself and 'only' taking silver).
BUT ALL IS NOT TEARS. I started off with that to get it out of the way and because it's Valentin's only World Championships to date, but hey, let's go happy now. :D
Here is Valentin in February 2013, setting a new personal best of 5.60m - and then promptly setting a NEW new personal best of 5.70m. I love how Renaud comes right over to congratulate him after 5.60, and then SPRINTS over, beaming ear to ear, after 5.70. You can tell just how much clearing 5.70 means to Valentin, and thus to Renaud as well. <3
Two years later, in January 2015, he was jumping in Rouen. First of all, how weird must it be to jump when your brother's ecstatic face is plastered over the billboards right behind you?
Actual!Renaud, chillin' nearby, applauded each of Valentin's clearances. And when Valentin cleared 5.70, equalling his personal best, he was on hand to give his lil' bro a big hug.
They ended up placing 1-2 after Renaud cleared 6m (for the eighth time in his career). A good day for the Lavillenie boys.
And a month later it was even better! I dare anyone to watch this video and not smile. Valentin sets a new personal best of 5.80m, which is a world-competitive height (it was the silver-medal winning mark at the last World Championships, and in Rio it would have been good enough for 4th place), and Renaud is just a little bit happy for him.
They ended up 1-2 again, as Renaud cleared 6.01m (and took 3 shots at 6.17, because of course).
(And that illustrates Valentin's difficulty in a nutshell - he has the best performance of his career, clearing a massive new personal best, and yet Renaud didn't even start his competition until 5.70, Valentin's old personal best, and ended up beating him by 21cm. Has to be frustrating sometimes!!)
But okay, enough chat, time for pictures. :D
Valentin being pretty:
Valentin continuing to be pretty (like his older brother, he doesn't believe in staying zipped up except when actually jumping):
Renaud fixing Valentin's athlete number (they tend to get dislodged if you fall on your back):
Valentin fixing Renaud's:
Valentin during a competition:
Spending time together in the jacuzzi during Renaud's prep for the Olympics in 2012 (go to 4:22):
Celebrating Renaud's Olympic gold in 2012 (guess the jacuzzi helped!):
They come, they vault, they conquer.
What Valentin looks like right now (3 September 2016, with other vaulters at ISTAF Berlin, including Thiago and Sam):
Thiago Braz da Silva, 2012-present
Personal bests: 6.03 (outdoors), 5.93 (indoors)
Thiago is 22 years old and has only burst onto the scene quite recently. His best result before Rio was 4th place in the 2014 World Indoor Championships; at the 2015 World Championships he was 19th and in 2016 he was 12th. The only other hint that he was capable of this result was a win in ISTAF Berlin earlier this year (ISTAF events are the level below Diamond League), in which he jumped a new personal best of 5.93 and beat Renaud for the first time.
He believes, as you'd expect him to, that Rio was not just one miracle result, and it's pretty clear that he wants to challenge Renaud for top-dog in pole vault. Renaud is turning 30 this month, so time is not on his side. If Thiago can start consistently vaulting over 6m (that's definitely an "if", since his 6.03 in Rio was his first time), or at least consistently over 5.90, he'll be able to challenge in a big way.
Right now he's doing a few competitions in Europe because his coach is making him. He's quite charmingly forthright about the fact that he wants to be on bloody vacation already, so he's kind of treating these competitions like training. In Zurich, he withdrew mid-competition because he reached the height he wanted to vault and that was good enough (everyone got worried that he was injured, but afterwards he told press, grinning, that he was just really really tired). In Berlin, he squeaked his way through his vaults, needing lots of tries. (But hey, he still placed 3rd and 2nd in those competitions without much effort, so it sounds like it's working for him.)
I feel like 2017 is going to be a really important year for him. If he can back up his shocking Rio performance, and become a consistent competitor month-in and month-out, he'll cement his place as a significant force in pole-vaulting. It'll also be good for Renaud to have a challenger who doesn't really seem to be intimidated/deferential of him at all (still calls him Lavillenie instead of Renaud, is polite but not buddy-buddy, etc.). They're not enemies or anything like that, and they still smile politely in press conferences and the like:
But when not posing for pictures, their body language does speak volumes.
More pictures of Thiago!
Aaaaand last but not least, fanart of the Rio podium that adds juuuuust a few muscles:
So I've introduced you to the gold and silver medalists from Rio. Who won bronze? Meet:
Sam Kendricks (USA), 2014-present
Personal bests: 5.92m (outdoor), 5.90m (indoor)
Another young guy (23yo) without too much history to write about yet. But he's had a fabulous season this year! He won the Olympic bronze in Rio and the silver at the World Indoor Championships (behind Renaud), as well as placing 2nd in the Diamond League Race and winning 3 of the individual Diamond League events (one of those jointly with Renaud). In 2015 he won the US National Championships and finished 9th at the World Championships. Before that, he won the 2013 and 2014 NCAA Championships.
Outside sports, Sam is an Army Reserve second lieutenant and very passionately patriotic.
With personal bests of 5.92/5.90, and decent consistency between events (some guys have a high ceiling but their performances vary widely), Sam is able to be a reliable challenger for Renaud on most days, although he doesn't yet have the capacity to match Renaud (or Thiago, now that Thiago's demonstrated it) if he goes over 5.95m.
Sam's also been having a massive bromance with Renaud this year, playing the Valentin-type "younger brother" role. Chatting during meets, asking Renaud how to jump the top heights, goofing off during press conferences, the lot. It's very cute.
Here they are cracking each other up during the Olympics:
At the Diamond League competition in Paris, post-Olympics, it's hugging time!
In Zurich they spent half the presser giggling together over something on Renaud's phone (during the delays for translation of Thiago's questions and answers).
After all the giggling and grinning, they not surprisingly got a question about their friendship later on (go to 11:18):
During the Zurich competition, Thiago, Sam, and Renaud were the last three guys with chances. When Thiago retired because he was tired, Sam & Renaud were left to fight it out. After both clearing 5.90 on their second try, they decided to go for broke and put it to 6.01, knowing it was unlikely either would clear it (especially Sam, given that it was way above his PB). Both of them were also really tired after Rio, and Sam admitted later that he'd always dreamt about tying with Renaud at a big event and being co-champions. When they duly failed their tries at 6.01, they SHOULD have had a jump-off to break the tie, but they both agreed to just tie, and were really cute about it. :D
Chatting during the competition:
Friends who decide to tie:
Friends with flags!
Shawnacy "Shawn" Barber (CAN), 2013-present
Personal bests: 6m (indoors), 5.93 (outdoors)
As you can see from his PB stats, Shawn is one of the three active pole vaulters (along with Renaud and Thiago) who's hit 6m. Only 22, he has plenty of time to grow, and is one of the exciting new talents to watch. In 2015, he won the World Championships outdoor in Beijing, with a perfect slate through 5.90m. In January 2016, he became the first person under 23 to ever clear 6m. His 2016 results have been a bit disappointing by that standard, finishing 4th at Worlds and 10th in Rio; I'll be really interested to see what he does in 2017.
Shawn is a wise 22-year-old, opining that
“The most important thing is to go out and do your best. If I go to a major competition and even if I lose, providing I’ve had fun, I won’t be disappointed. I see so many athletes get discouraged if they don’t have success and then say they don’t want to jump anymore because they don’t have fun. If they just focused on enjoying themselves more they would have more success down the road.” (x)
Like the Lavillenie brothers, Shawn grew up in a pole vault family, as his dad was a pro. Here's a little vid about him and his dad:
And I had to include this because ... random strawberry? (Mascot?)
Raphael Holzdeppe (GER), 2008-present
Personal bests: 5.94m (outdoors), 5.84m (indoors)
Holzdeppe has had some fantastic results over his career. He won the 2013 World Championships with a jump of 5.89 (with no misses to that point, so he won the tiebreaker over Renaud), the silver in the 2015 World Championships behind Shawn Barber (with a jump of 5.90), and the bronze in the London Olympics (jumping a then-PB 5.91). In Rio he disappointingly did not qualify for the final.
Have a fantastically dramatic Red Bull commercial:
And here's him and Renaud cracking up together:
Piotr Lisek (POL), 2013-present
Personal bests: 5.90m (indoor), 5.82m (outdoor)
You're watching a pole vault competition. Suddenly you jump out of your seat, because somebody has just ROARED at the top of their lungs. Who are you watching?
This is Piotr Lisek, a 24-year-old Pole who yells like this before every single jump. :D He's therefore very easily identified. He's emerged onto the international scene in the last two years, placing 3rd at Europeans and Worlds in 2015, 3rd at Worlds and 4th at Europeans in 2016, and taking a joint 4th in Rio. He's therefore shown himself to be a consistent competitor, if (like Sam) not yet a match for Renaud at the 5.90+ heights.
Here's Piotr goofing around with his fellow Polish pole-vaulter Robert Sobera (sorry, no translation, but I think you get a gist of their humor anyway):
Piotr trained as a high jumper first, but when he reached junior level his coach said he was too short and should try pole vault. (He's 6'4", seven inches taller than Renaud, so either he grew after that or high jump needs some serious height.)
Excerpts from a cute Q&A with Piotr:
I don’t really remember my first toy, but my mum owned a toy shop, so I had lots of them and played a lot. It was a paradise for a small boy, although I was often punished for opening the toy which was for sale!
FIRST THING LEARNED TO COOK
This question made me think because I love to eat well, but I would not win a top chef contest. Fortunately, I have a girlfriend who cooks very well and she’s feeding me so well that at the moment I think I’m the heaviest pole vaulter in the world at 95kg [210lbs]!
My first pet was a dog and its name was ‘dog’. I didn’t need motivation to go for a walk, but it was much more fun do it with a dog. After my pole vault career is over I will get myself a dog. I think it would be wonderful to adopt a dog from a shelter and take him to a loving new home.
Robert Sobera (POL), 2013-present
Personal bests: 5.81m (indoors), 5.80m (outdoors)
It's the other guy from the Lisek video up above! :) Sobera is another Polish vaulter. He's 25 years old, and his biggest result to date is winning the European Championships this year. I'll let him tell you about that:
Basically, do you remember way back in the Renaud section, where I told you that he's famous for not coming into competitions until everyone else has been jumping for hours? Well, in this European Championship everyone was already done when Renaud decided to get in. Only two guys, Sobera and Kudlicka, had cleared 5.60, and neither of them could clear 5.70. Then Renaud finally got around to jumping, at 5.75, a height well within his capability (he'd in fact just cleared 5.80m twice in warmup). Unfortunately for him he then struggled with the windy conditions, promptly missed three times in a row, and didn't even post a mark. Ooops. xD I told you getting in late could be high risk sometimes!
So Sobera walked away with an unexpected victory. :) His level isn't yet high enough to consistently challenge - in Rio he just missed the qualifying cut for the final - but he's another jumper to keep an eye on as he comes into his peak years.
Konstadinos Filippidis (GRE), 2005-2007, 2009-present (doping ban 2007-2009)
Personal bests: 5.91m (outdoors), 5.84m (indoors)
Filippidis is one of the veterans in pole vault. He won the World Indoor Championships in 2014 (the year Renaud was injured), the only time he's medalled at Europeans or Worlds. He placed 7th at both the London and Rio Olympics.
A Filippidis interview:
Jan Kudlička (CZE), 2008-present
Personal bests: 5.83m (outdoors), 5.80m (indoors)
Kudlička is a solid veteran competitor. He has a bronze from the 2014 World Championships (setting his indoor PB), finished a joint 4th in Rio (after being 8th in London), and 4th at the 2016 World Championships. His PBs are not that high, but he's been able to make the most of his ability.
Kudlička after the 2014 Worlds:
Paweł Wojciechowski (POL), 2011-present
Personal bests: 5.91m (outdoors), 5.86m (indoors)
Paweł burst onto the scene in 2011, capturing the World Championship out of nowhere (with a jump of 5.90). Since then his best results have been a bronze in the 2015 Worlds and silver in the 2014 Europeans. In both London and Rio he didn't manage to get out of the qualification rounds.
I haven't been able to find any funny/interesting videos of him, sorry. But here's a picture of his 2011 Worlds podium. :)
Stanley Joseph (FRA), 2013-present
Personal bests: 5.75m (outdoors), 5.64m (indoors)
Here's Stanley as part of the French pole vault Olympic team (on the right):
Stanley is a young French jumper, a contemporary of Valentin's, who is roughly of the same ability (Valentin has slightly higher personal bests). He just beat out Valentin for a spot on the Rio squad, where he placed 16th (not qualifying for the final).
On the way to Rio (on the right):
Rio closing ceremony (again on the right):
Kévin Menaldo (FRA), 2012-present
Personal bests: 5.81m (outdoors), 5.77m (indoors)
Another young French guy. Not hard on the eyes. His biggest result to date has been tying for the bronze at the 2014 European Championships.
The trio of him, Stanley, and Valentin is still young and has time to make its mark. We'll see if it does - or if Renaud will continue to win all the medals for French pole vaulting.
Kevin and Stanley:
Kevin and Renaud:
Kevin and the Lavillenie brothers:
Kevin vaulting, in which it can be seen that the Lavillenie brothers' unzipping thing is contagious:
Kévin Mayer (FRA), 2009-present
So this is cheating a little, because Kevin is not actually a pole vaulter. He's a 24-year-old French decathlete, who just won silver in Rio behind Ashton Eaton. But he does pole vault as part of the decathlon, so that totally counts, right?
Cast your mind back to the underwear commercial in the Renaud section. Remember the golden curly-haired guy? Yep, that's Kevin.
He and Renaud are friends. Renaud's helped him work on his pole vault, and sometimes they've trained together. [Renaud's actually done a decathlon before - he does most of the events as part of his training, and I think he also wanted to set a record for pole-vault-in-decathlon. Funnily enough he had an off day (or was tired from decathlating), so he didn't actually get that record.]
Here's some of their cuteness on Instagram:
Kevin and Renaud goofing off in a presser:
Going to Kevin's decathlon and cheering him on to the silver medal seems to have cheered Renaud up after his own competition, so that's good. :)
Meanwhile Kevin is awesome and definitely someone to keep a close eye on for decathlon in the coming years. Ashton Eaton is a legend but he's not getting any younger...
And finally, how better to end this post than with a gif of Kevin blowing a kiss to the camera and cracking Renaud up?
In the final part of this fandom primer/pimping post, I'll move on to look at women's pole vault! Post-Isinbayeva, there are some exciting young athletes poised to make their mark.
On to Part Three! (work in progress!!)