Clovis News

10-year-old pole vaulter lives for height

The state of Louisiana's invasion of Old Town Clovis tonight will begin with this year's two best female high school pole vaulters in the nation and a male state champion.

Then a crowd that has ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 at the North American Pole Vaulting Association Championships -- better known as the Clovis Street Vault -- will see something unlike anything before in the 16-year history of the event at the intersection of Fourth Street and Pollasky Avenue.

Mondo Duplantis of Lafayette, La., at 4-foot-6, 80 pounds, will grip near the top of a fiberglass pole almost nearly three times his height, sail down the narrow runaway and attempt to break his own world age-group record of 12-71/4.

At 10 years old.

"I guess I just like going up high in the air and coming down," he said Thursday in the most basic, elementary explanation one could expect from a soft-spoken child when asked what he likes about the sport.

His world record, set July 3 at Gothenburg, Sweden's Ullevi Stadium, came against a field of 13-year-olds.

He beat them all.

And he expected to: "Yeah."

Why? "Because my aunt knew people in the meet, their [personal records], and mine was 50 centimeters higher."

He talks metric.

Goal tonight: "4 meters."

Translated: 13 feet, 1 inch.

The kid's different.

"Unique," says dad, Greg Duplantis.

He joined his youngest son, Mondo, and his oldest son, Andreas -- Lafayette High's 16-6 state champion this year as a junior -- at a Clovis Street Vault pre-meet gathering Thursday at the Doghouse Grill.

Genetics help explain Mondo's ascent.

At 17-113/4, dad was a national high school record-holder as a senior at Lafayette High in 1981. Then later, as a professional competing in Europe, he went 19-01/4 for a man standing 5-6. He remains the world's smallest 19-foot vaulter.

He was competing for Louisiana State when he met his future wife, Sweden-born Helena, who was a heptathlete at the school.

A lawyer and pole vault coach, Greg Duplantis has a 150-foot, well-surfaced runway feeding a pole vault pit adjacent to the family's 4,000-square foot home in a Lafayette subdivision.

Mondo was introduced to it quickly.

"Probably 2," dad says. "He could barely walk."

What followed was out of dad's control.

First, the child developed speed -- a prerequisite for vaulting excellence.

No one on his Little League or soccer teams can touch him. And even his 13-year-old brother, Antoine -- who's fast -- can barely beat him.

Equally as important, Mondo -- real name, Armand -- embraced the sport.

Nothing was shoved down his throat.

"You can't force pole vaulting; it's too hard," dad says. "That's like forcing cliff diving.

"Mondo's fast, fearless, aggressive and he loves it. He's a student -- he gets on the Internet and watches videos of pros. And he'll jump three or four times a day in the backyard. He's real excited about it."

Mondo's success can also be attributed to coaching competence.

It's no accident the state of Louisiana will be so well-represented tonight in Clovis -- from Mondo, to brother Andreas and to Morgann Leleux (14-0) and Merritt Grace Van Meter (13-8), the nation's female prep leaders this year.

And there's a local tie -- Doug Fraley, the former Fresno State three-time NCAA pole vault champion and son of Clovis Street Vault architect Bob Fraley.

Doug Fraley has for years lived in the New Orleans, La., area, and has progressively mentored young vaulters -- Mondo being his latest prize.

"Doug's influence has been tremendous," Greg Duplantis says. "He's really a premier coach, and he's always available to talk."

Doug Fraley, who will be present tonight, says: "We're just trying to get the best talent out there in pole vaulting and give them the best help and equipment we can. You get the right kids jumping with the right coaches and they're going to be good. It's that simple."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Gothenburg, Sweden.