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Kendricks – Bubka’s choice as next superstar

The American, the first pole-vaulter since the Ukraine star to retain his world title, hopes to go higher.
American Sam Kendricks Successfully Clears The Bar During The Mens Pole Vault Final In Doha
American Sam Kendricks successfully clears the bar during the men’s pole vault final in Doha. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

The way Sam Kendricks conducts himself and his choice of words suggest he would have been a successful motivational speaker. The American, though, has sought and found excellence in another field – pole-vaulting.

In Doha on Tuesday, Kendricks became the first pole-vaulter since the Ukrainian legend Sergey Bubka to defend his World Championships title.

Given that Kendricks had the season’s highest jump – 6.06M – the 27-year-old’s show in Doha was expected.

A day before the final, Bubka, an IAAF Vice-President now, had told Inside Qatar that he would pick Kendricks, Sweden’s Armand Duplantis and Poland’s Piotr Lisek to finish on the podium in that order. The prediction proved accurate.

Usas Sam Kendricks Celebrates After Winning The Mens Pole Vault Title
USA’s Sam Kendricks celebrates after winning the men’s pole vault title. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images for IAAF

When Kendricks, a first lieutenant with the US Army Reserves, heard about it, words failed him for a moment. But the consummate professional quickly recovered his wits.

“It’s so cool, and it makes me feel amazing to think he believes in me. It gives me so much confidence that he sees that value in me,” Kendricks told Inside Qatar.

“Honestly, even my wife wouldn’t have picked me as the favourite to win because the competition was so tight. Knowing Bubka had faith in me to be the winner is such a huge confidence booster,” he added.

Indeed, the final hour of competition had been quite intense. Kendricks, pushed to the very end by the 20-year-old Swede Duplantis, won on a countback after both had cleared 5.97M.

At the post-event press conference, the American said he would leave breaking world records to the Swede.

“I don’t dream about breaking the world record. I’ll leave that to Armand. I’m the man who knows my limits. We just want to make it better, just to jump higher,” he said.

But later he admitted, however, that world record would remain at the back of his mind.

“Everywhere I go, I try to make my mark, just like Bubka did. That’s my job as a professional. And now that I’m double world champion, the pressure will be even more intense. I guess the world record will always be at the back of my mind whenever I compete,” he said.

Bubka had dominated pole vault competitions at the IAAF Worlds unlike no other. He won the title six editions in a row, first for the erstwhile USSR (’83 Helsinki, ’87 Rome, ’91 Tokyo) and then for Ukraine (’93 Stuttgart, ’95 Gothenburg and ’97 Athens).

From Left Polands Piotr Lisek Usas Sam Kendricks And Swedens Armand Duplantis Celebrate Their Medal Success In Doha
From left, Poland’s Piotr Lisek, USA’s Sam Kendricks and Sweden’s Armand Duplantis celebrate their medal success in Doha. Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF

Kendricks acknowledged the considerable influence the 55-year-old has had on his sport, but felt new jumpers could emerge to take centre stage.

“Of course, pole vaulters understand the legacy of their event. Bubka is a part of our history, a part of our bloodline. It takes time to dominate the event as he did. Bubka was very dominant in our sport, but I think it’s even more interesting now because there’re so many who can take the crown,” he said.

What the modest jumper never said was that he, after winning back-to-back world titles, is well-placed to become the next pole-vaulting superstar. Maybe, he prefers to let his jumps do all the talking.