PARIS (Reuters) - Renaud Lavillenie appears to have overcome a mid-season wobble and is hitting the heights just in time for his bid to complete a collection of major pole vault titles at the world championships in Beijing.
The high-flying Frenchman holds the world record after clearing 6.16 meters last year and victory in China would add to his Olympic and world indoor titles as well as the European indoor and outdoor crowns he also owns.
However, The 28-year-old suffered a recent blip in his buildup to Beijing, falling to rare back-to-back defeats in Paris and Lausanne last month as he looked vulnerable for the first time since his failure at the 2013 world championships.
Despite the setbacks, the dominant force in the discipline since soaring to the Olympic title in London three years ago was not unduly concerned.
“Let’s not forget it is pole vaulting and it is not out of the ordinary to fail in a competition,” he said.
“Last season, I was able to win the Paris meeting with 5.70m. This year, I’m fifth with the same performance.”
While his Paris (5.76m) mark was seriously below par, Lavillenie blamed his poor result in Lausanne (5.71m) on a late gust of wind and promised to show what he was capable of in the ensuing French championships, which he won comfortably.
It was against improved competition that ‘Air Lavillenie’ really hit his mark, however, clearing the bar at 6.03m at the London Diamond League meeting last month.
“I know I’m able to clear 6.10-6.15 meters this summer,” he warned.
Lavillenie had already achieved what remains the leading jump of the year and his own best outdoors by clearing 6.05m in Eugene in May before suffering consecutive defeats for the first time in two years.
Victories since at the French championships in Monaco and London have fully restored the confidence of a man who won world bronze in 2009 and 2011 and silver in Moscow two years ago.
“It gives me all the confidence I need before the world championships,” said Lavillenie, whose younger brother and fellow vaulter Valentin will miss the trip to Beijing because of a fractured hand.
“I’m not driven by the desire to become a champion, just by a passion for pole vaulting,” Lavillenie said of a family tradition that was started by his grandfather and has continued through each generation since.
Jean Galfione, who won Olympic gold for France in Atlanta in 1996 but never claimed a world title, believes Lavillenie can keep going higher.
“He’s not the strongest, not the tallest, not the fastest, but with a pole in his hands, he becomes strong,” he said. “He is amazing, he is one of those guys you cannot set limits to.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Nick Mulvenney/John O'Brien