World record holder Renaud Lavillenie will return to the Prefontaine Classic for a 5th time, and prime among his challengers will be both Thiago Braz– who famously thwarted the Frenchman’s bid for a second Olympic gold in Rio—and Olympic bronze medalist Sam Kendricks.
The Olympic podium rematch highlights a field with every medalist from not only Rio but also last year’s World Indoor Championships and the 2015 World Championships. In fact, the stellar field includes every one of the world’s current top 8, as ranked by All-Athletics.com, the official data partner of the IAAF Diamond League.
Renaud Lavillenie, 30, is a unique talent. Despite not winning a second Olympic gold, his 2016 season enhanced his reputation among the all-time great pole vaulters. He competed in 21 meets and cleared 19-feet (5.79) in 17 of them. He is the only athlete to have won his event’s overall title in each of the 7 years of the existence of the IAAF Diamond League.
Lavillenie is a favorite of Eugene’s knowledgeable fans, and the appreciation clearly has been mutual. He soared to 19-10¼ (6.05) at the 2015 Pre Classic, the best ever seen in America and the best he’s done anywhere outdoors. Last year, Lavillenie donned a version of the hometown University of Oregon singlet as he won his 4th-straight Pre Classic, a feat only achieved by Oregon’s Kory Tarppening (1988-91). No one has ever won five Pre Classic vault titles. He owns 8 of the Pre Classic’s 19-foot (5.80) clearances – no one else has more than 3.
Brazil’s Thiago Braz, 23, won the 2016 Olympic Games vault, becoming the first from his country to claim Olympic gold in this sport since 1984, when Joaquim Cruz – a former Oregon Duck – won the 800 in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Braz also became the youngest to win Olympic gold in this event since 21-year-old Maksim Tarasov in 1992.
Braz’s most famous moment came last August, when a 19-9¼ (6.03) clearance brought the Olympic Stadium in Rio to deafening delirium as he sealed his gold. The crowd rated as a huge advantage, even roaring when Lavillenie missed. Braz’s winning height of 19-9¼ (6.03) is the highest non-Lavillenie height seen since Australian Steve Hooker reached 19-10¼ (6.06) indoors in Boston in 2009. This will be Braz’s second appearance at Pre, having finished 7th in his debut back in ’14.
Olympic Trials winner Sam Kendricks, 24, earned the bronze at Rio, America’s first Olympic medal in this event since 2004. It also made him the youngest American Olympic medalist since Jan Johnson’s bronze in 1972 at age 21. He also earned the silver at last year’s World Indoor, the youngest American medalist since Lawrence Johnson’s silver in 1997 at age 22.
Kendricks has won every U.S. outdoor and indoor in which he has competed – dating back to the 2014 outdoor crown. Kendricks also could be Lavillenie’s Kryptonite – he has two Diamond League wins over the Frenchman plus a tie at the final in last year’s IAAF Diamond League season, the strongest challenge Lavillenie has seen in one year.
Shawn Barber is the youngest in the field at 22 and is the reigning World Championships gold medalist – he won in Beijing in 2015 at age 21, making him the youngest World Champion in the event since Sergey Bubka, who won the inaugural feature in 1983 at age 19. He will turn 23 on May 27, the day set for the Pre Classic men’s pole vault.
Barber has a unique background. Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, he is a dual Canadian and American citizen who competes for Canada. He graduated from Kingwood Park High near Houston, Texas, where as a senior he set a national high school record of 18-3½ (5.57) in 2012. His short-lived collegiate career saw him set four collegiate indoor records in 2015 for the University of Akron, sweeping the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles.
Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski and Piotr Lisek shared bronze medals with Lavillenie at Beijing in the 2015 World Championships. Wojciechowski, 27, won the 2011 World Championships in Daegu as a 22-year-old and the last two years enjoyed his best vaulting since the ’11 season, when he was ranked No. 2 in the world by Track & Field News. Lisek, 24, was ranked No. 3 in the world in 2015 by T&FN, but has started 2017 as the hottest vaulter on the planet, joining the elite 6-meter club with a victory at 19-8¼ (6.00) in Potsdam, Germany.
Jan Kudlicka, 28, is the national record holder from the Czech Republic and the only three-time Olympian in the field, with a 4th-place finish in Rio topping the 8th in London and 9th in Beijing. He is also a 3-time finalist in the World Championships and earned bronze in the 2014 World Indoor.
Konstantinos Filippidis of Greece won the 2014 World Indoor title and last year became a two-time Olympian, joining Lavillenie. The 30-year-old has ranked among T&FN’s world’s top 7 every year since 2011, led by a No. 2 in 2014. To date, he has likely the most competitions (67) against and victories (13) over Lavillenie, whom he first battled in 2009.
|Men’s Pole Vault||Personal Best|
|Renaud Lavillenie (France)||20-2½||(6.16)|
|Thiago Braz (Brazil)||19-9¼||(6.03)|
|Shawn Barber (Canada)||19-8¼||(6.00)|
|Piotr Lisek (Poland)||19-8¼||(6.00)|
|Sam Kendricks (USA)||19-5||(5.92)|
|Konstantinos Filippidis (Greece)||19-4¾||(5.91)|
|Pawel Wojciechowski (Poland)||19-4¾||(5.91)|
|Jan Kudlicka (Czech Republic)||19-1½||(5.83)|
Tickets for the 43rd annual edition of the Prefontaine Classic, to be held May 26-27 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., will go on sale at 9 a.m. PT on February 10thfrom www.GoDucks.com as well as from 1-800-WEBFOOT. Sponsored by NIKE continuously since 1984, the Prefontaine Classic will be shown live to an international audience on NBC.
The Prefontaine Classic is the longest-running outdoor invitational track & field meet in America and is part of the elite IAAF Diamond League of meets held worldwide annually. The Pre Classic’s results score has rated No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in each of the last six years by All-Athletics.com, the official data partner of the Diamond League.
Steve Prefontaine is a legend in the sport of track & field and is the most inspirational distance runner in American history. He set a national high school 2-mile record (8:41.5) while at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Oregon, that is the fastest ever in a National Federation-sanctioned race. While competing for the University of Oregon, he won national cross country championships (3) and outdoor track 3-Mile/5000-meter championships (4), and never lost a collegiate track race at any distance. As a collegiate junior, he made the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team and nearly won an Olympic medal, finishing 4th in the 5K at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at age 21. After finishing college in 1973 and preparing for a return to the Olympics in 1976, he continued to improve, setting many American records. His life ended tragically on May 30, 1975, the result of an auto accident, at age 24. The Pre Classic began that year and has been held every year since.