Last weekend in Donetsk, pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie (that’s REN-O LA-VIL-LEN-EE) flew higher than any athlete has ever been before: 6.16m. Here are 10 reasons why we reckon he managed it.

1. Early starter

Encouraged by his father, Gilles (a 4.41m pole vaulter), little Renaud took up the sport aged seven. “I have pole vault in my blood” he told SPIKES last year. “He [my father] gave me the opportunity to start my passion and to do the best that I could.”

2. French connection

After the USA, France are the most successful nation in Olympic men’s pole vault. Lavillenie cleared 5.97m in London to win Olympic gold, and became the fourth Frenchman to win the title. Lavillenie also joins Thierry Vigneron and Pierre Quinon in the rarified group of French pole vault world record holders.

3. Rolls with a crew

After striking Olympic gold in London, Lavillenie made the surprising decision of parting company with his long-time coach Damien Inocencio and appointing the two-time Olympic finalist Phillipe D’Encausse. The switch allowed him to return from training alone to training with a group.

Renaud Lavillenie after clearing a world record of 6.16m at the 2014 Pole Vault Stars meeting in Donetsk (Valeriy Bilokryl / Jean-Pierre Durand)

Out of this world: Lavillenie in Donetsk after clearing 6.16m

4. Sibling rivalry

His little brother Valentin Lavillenie, five years Renauld’s junior, is beginning to demonstrate the hallmarks of a future champion. Last year he leapt to a personal best of 5.70 and won European under-23 bronze medal. And there’s nothing like a little bit of sibling rivalry to focus the mind…  

5. Practice, practice, practice

Renaud Lavillenie just loves to vault. He’s even set up a pole vault runway in his back garden. He thinks nothing of vaulting for three hours at a time.

6. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Few athletes are as highly regarded by the track and field community. After Lavillenie won European indoor gold in Gothenburg, rival Bjorn Otto described him as “just like a machine”.

Holly Bleasdale, the 2013 European Indoor women’s champ, called him a “beast”. The pole vault crowd always knew Lavillenie to be a very special talent.

Sergey Bubka and Renaud Lavillenie at the 2014 Pole Vault Stars meeting in Donetsk (Valeriy Bilokryl/ Jean-Pierre Durand)


Pole vault power: Sergey Bubka congratulates his successor

7. Rough Justice

Last year in Gothenburg, Lavillenie was celebrating clearing 6.07m, a height bettered only by Bubka, when the red flag was raised. Replays revealed that while the bar hadn’t fallen, it had been sufficiently disturbed to be declared a foul. Lavillenie was understandably aggrieved and lay on the track in tears. You could really see just how much it meant to him.

8. The 27 Club

Ukranian pole vault god Sergey Bubka’s finest year was 1991. That year he completed a hat trick of world titles and set EIGHT world records. He was 27. Renaud Lavillenie has just set his first world record aged, you guessed it, 27.

9. He’s just a chiller

Renaud Lavillenie’s placid manner is a key component of his success. A month after winning silver at the Moscow 2013 World Championships, he decided to make his decathlon debut: finishing 14th with 6676pts at the Decastar in Talance (despite performing surprisingly poorly in the pole vault).  Lavillenie then spent some of his off-season racing motorbikes at the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race.

10. Bubka’s belief

It was fitting that Lavillenie should surpass Sergey Bubka’s record in Bubka’s hometown of Donetsk, watched on by the great man himself. The great Ukrainian even geed up Lavillenie the night before the competition, with a chat about breaking the 6.15m mark.