Armand "Mondo" Duplantis is the best teenage pole vaulter the world has ever seen. The junior at Lafayette High School in Louisiana has broken the national high school record three times this season, with his most recent record of 5.75m/18-10.25 at the Millrose Games. The young star will represent Sweden this summer at the senior-level IAAF World Championships in London. Right now, he ranks No. 6 in the world! Duplantis' latest record is also a world age group record for 17-year-olds; he owns world age records for 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds. He is the 2015 World U18 champion and won bronze last summer at the World U20 Championships as a 16-year-old. We talked to Becca Peter, who runs the super popular @PoleVaultPower Twitter account, to gain some insight into the pole vault world and what might be next for Duplantis.
Jojo: Mondo Duplantis is the best pole vaulter of all time for high schoolers, though you mentioned you think there's one guy who might be better?
Becca: My opinion prior to Mondo was that the best high school vaulter of all time was Casey Carrigan. Casey was from Orting, Washington, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere and he still has the state record in our state of 17-4 ¾ which he set in 1969. Casey's actually very similar to Mondo. He allegedly had a pole vault pit in his backyard, he had a bunch of brothers and they grew up just doing all the sports and allegedly he jumped his age from age eight until age 17 -- which is really similar to what Mondo has done except Mondo has done better.
In 1968, Casey jumped 17 feet and he made the Olympic team as a junior in high school. Mondo obviously didn't make the Olympic team last year as a sophomore, but he's already jumped higher this year than last year's Olympic standard. So if the Olympics were this year, Mondo would be going. Definitely a lot of similarities.
The biggest difference is when Casey jumped, after he jumped 17-4 ¾ he went for 17-10 and some change, which was a world record at the time. The event was a little less mature because fiberglass polls were still pretty new. I don't think Mondo is going to be attempting the world record as a high schooler -- it's a little bit apples and oranges in that regard -- but Mondo is the only vaulter who's really come close to Casey in terms of how good they are relative to the best in the world for all ages.
It's not an Olympic year but there is a World Championships this year and he has that standard. What does it mean to qualify and be on the world stage in an event like the pole vault as a teenager?
It's nice for Mondo because he's competing for Sweden. He has dual citizenship and that makes things a little easier for him because he doesn't have to worry about qualifying at USA's. Although even if he was American, I think he would still have a really good chance of making the team. The gap between what the best high schoolers do and the rest of the world has really grown and so it's really unusual to see high school pole vaulters who are competitive at the elite level at this point. He's there now, which is super exciting.
There's another teenage vaulter who's very close to him. Emmanuel Karalis from Greece is two weeks apart in age from Mondo, and cleared 5.70m last weekend. Who do you think would win: Emmanuel Karalis or Mondo Duplantis?
It's hard to say. I think they've gone back and forth a few times. They're both really exciting vaulters. I don't know as much about Karalis' history but they're very similar in age, very similar in height and they seem like they have a pretty similar build too like they're both physically underdeveloped. They're only 17, they haven't finished growing yet and guys a lot of times will keep on getting faster and stronger and sometimes until they're like 20. That's kind of exciting because they're jumping well and they both have potential both to improve in their technique and their ability and to just get bigger which is always really exciting. It's great because since they're both so similar in age and they both represent European countries they've got all the European juniors and world juniors and like very possible meet internationally, they could be going head-to-head so that's super exciting too. It could be for a long time.
I did notice on Karalis' Twitter account that he is a professional pole vault, and Mondo is not. What opportunities are there to go pro in pole vault? Do you think there's more opportunities to go pro as a European athlete compared to an American in the pole vault?
I think that as a Swedish athlete, a lot of the clubs there offer sponsorships to their athletes so I think he might have opportunities in terms of clubs and then obviously he would have in terms of shoe sponsors which tends to be the main sponsorship opportunity for pole vaulters. Overall in this sport, it's really tough as an elite pole vaulter. There's not a lot of opportunity, but Mondo is super marketable right now. I don't know, it's hard to say if he'll go pro or not, that's up to him.
This summer would be a great time to do it if he was going to do it, because there's the world championships this summer and the way that the contracts are set up, if you perform well at a meet like that and you get a lot of bonuses from your sponsor, like there's prize money in the meet and then you get bonuses from your sponsor and a lot of times those bonuses will roll over to the next year. So if you jump well at the world championships, not only do you get bonuses for jumping well there but then you might make more money the next year as well.
If he waits until the next summer after senior year, there's no world championships. There's nothing. There's similar meets but there's not a big meet like that. There's not a huge advantage to waiting and then just in terms of his career, I mean, he's so marketable right now because of his age but it's so unusual to have someone so young that's so competitive with the big boys. These companies like the idea of potential, and that's part of why they pick up some of these high school athletes because they want to get them now and they're kind of gambling on who's going to make it big. If he were to wait just a couple of more years, I don't know that his value would necessarily be much higher. The next level from here then would be getting into jumping six meters and maybe taking shots at the world record [of 6.16m] and that's a big jump. I think he's got the potential to do that at some point but gambling on 'am I going to do that in the next few years' is kind of tough.
There's a lot of value competing in college and just having that environment and it's definitely something that he should consider. I hope that he does do some of the recruiting process and visit some schools even if it's just unofficial visits. Going pro is an option for him, which is so rare, but yeah, definitely, he should consider all the different options ahead of him as he kind of plans the next stages of his career.
So, if he were to go pro, it would make more sense to do it before Worlds.
Yeah, and I mean, that's still far away. Obviously a lot could happen between now and this summer and it's tricky because he can't talk to an agent. His family can't officially talk to any kind of agent because it would ruin his eligibility. It's a really tricky game to play in those situations but his dad used to be a professional pole vaulter and obviously they know lots of people and professional athletes so they're going to have a good understanding of how all of that works.
If you look at Shawn Barber, Shawn went pro a little bit early from college like right before he won the world championship and he was kind of being squirrelly about it that summer about like are you going pro, are you not. It'll definitely be interesting to see what Mondo does. Hopefully he just keeps jumping well and stays healthy and has these big decisions to make.
In the past few meets, Mondo ended his meet on a PR. He set a new national record and then ended his competition for the day. But at his state meet last weekend, he went straight from 5.70m/18-8.25 past his national record of 5.75m/18-10.25 to 5.82m/19-1.25. He missed all three attempts at that height. Now, what do you think about the idea of ending on a positive note, and not trying to go further after you've made a PR?
It can be really hard. I know Mondo doesn't look like he gets real excited ever but when you get a PR, it can be kind of hard to come back from that and get yourself mentally ready to jump another height. If you look at when Renaud set the world record, he went for another height and he got hurt real bad. That was actually really scary. Sometimes it is kind of better to end on a good note just because it can be hard to come back and then if something goes wrong at that level, it can be a little scary sometimes.
What do you think about his form and when do you think he's going to clear 19 feet?
He's definitely ready to jump 19 feet. Obviously being ready to do it doesn't mean you will but I think he has a great chance of doing it at New Balance, but if not then, it could be awhile in the summer till he's really ready outdoors to do it. But I think his form is great. He's always had great form. He's had good coaching from day one. And he's always been an athlete who loves to study video and watch other vaulters. I don't remember how old he was, but when he was like maybe junior high age he made a video of himself imitating the styles of other vaulters, he did the technique of a bunch of different vaulters and copied it.
He has a big advantage over a lot of other high school vaulters just because he's always had good coaching and so he started with good technique. That's one of the big challenges for high school vaulters. They don't have great coaching at their high schools and so they start off with bad habits and they spend a lot of time having to fix those. His technique's great. There's always a little room for improvement but he's not a big kid and so that's been one of the cool things watching him over the years. He's jumping high because he has great technique. A lot of kids who jump high at a young age are just physically mature and so part of why they're able to jump higher is because they're a lot bigger.
And I don't think he's done growing.
That was always one of the big question marks with him. His dad was so short and that was kind of one of his unique things about his dad. His dad was the shortest guy to ever jump 19 feet. Mondo was always such a shrimpy kid, it was like a big question mark. It's like, well, Mondo is jumping great, but what if he's only 5 ft. 6 inches tall as an adult? How high can he really jump if he's not real tall? It's great that he's getting taller.
You mentioned that if he doesn't clear 19 feet at New Balance Nationals Indoor, then it may not be until later during the outdoor season. Why is that, and can you describe the transition from indoors to outdoors?
Well, there's definitely a transition to outdoors just dealing with the weather. For the pole vault, the wind is always a big variable. Even if you don't have any wind, then that's a variable, too. Even if it's a tailwind, which is what everyone wants, you still have to adjust for it. Like, you have to get on bigger poles which is great but if you can't get on a big enough pole quick enough, you're not necessarily going to benefit from it.
But for Mondo, after season, I don't know how many meets we're really going to see him at. I'm guessing probably the Texas Relays, but most of the meets that schools are going to go to, their standards aren't going to go high enough and he really has to jump on short pegs for his mark to count internationally. At the high school level, we still have longer pegs than are allowed, and so if he goes to a meet at a high school -- like even if their standards did go high enough, if it's long pegs, his marks would count for high school marks but they wouldn't count internationally.
Honestly, he's looking at breaking world junior records and stuff like that which requires drug testing and all that, so it's kind of tricky to say how many high school outdoor meets during the season he's really going to do. Maybe a couple of invitationals but I wouldn't really expect to see a lot out of him until summer.
Obviously, I'm sure he'll do his state meet and all the meets leading up to that. But I would imagine that it would take him a little time to get used to jumping outdoors and dealing with the wind and everything and so they're probably not going to be focusing on jumping super high, just more on getting adjusted and getting used to outdoors and everything.
If you were to make a prediction of what he's going to do this summer, what would you say?
It's kind of hard to say, like height-wise, but I think he'll make the final at the world championships. Again, I don't know if he'll medal because that starts getting pretty crazy, but the way he's jumping... it's crazy that he's jumped higher than 5.70m three meets in a row. I was looking at the world list and he has the seventh- highest mark in the world this year and one of the guys was a Russian, it was a little questionable, there was like some extra rubber, but of all of the guys that were ahead of him, only three vaulters had jumped 5.70m or higher three times indoors this season. Now, granted, there's no world championships and Renaud is injured, Barber hasn't started jumping yet, so it's not quite as competitive as last year when there was a world championships.
But once you're jumping 5.70m consistently, that's when you really start getting in at like really being an elite vaulter who can go and show up and perform at Diamond Leagues.
That would've made the Olympic final.
Yeah 5.70m would've made the Olympic final definitely. A lot of vaulters, they'll jump high at one meet but then the rest of their meets they're a bit lower. Your highest mark as a vaulter doesn't necessarily reflect what you're capable of doing on any given day. The fact that his last three meets have been so high, in some ways, it's a little easier to be consistent indoors because the conditions are consistent but still there's not a lot of guys in the world that can do that right now so that's pretty awesome.
How long have you been aware of him?
I met Mondo at the Pole Vault Summit when he was like, six or seven or maybe eight years old. He was really, really little and he was so shy and it was so cute because I've known his dad for a long time. I remember I had the stickers for my website that a guy made for me that I was passing out to people and so I handed him a sticker and he took it but he was just too shy to even say anything. That was so cute. It's been really fun watching him grow up and it's just like, every year he's breaking records and just having fun.