USA TODAY High School Sports is publishing a series called “The Class of 18,” highlighting 18 members of the Class of 2018 whom we will be watching in the coming year. The athletes were selected by the USA TODAY HSS staff.
Name: Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis
Sport: Track & Field
Event: Pole vault, 4×100-meter relay
MORE CLASS OF ’18: See all the athlete profiles here
Armand Duplantis lives in a room with the Swedish flag draped over his window. He represents his mother’s Sweden internationally, but his teenage success is nothing short of the track embodiment of the American dream.
Duplantis, who was the subject of a glowing New York Times feature in April, holds dual citizenship after he was born in the U.S. to his mother and American father Greg Duplantis, both of whom were track and field athletes at LSU. The elder Duplantis was a pole vaulter who competed internationally after LSU and helped instill a love of the event in his son, who has developed a personality and reputation as someone who is never afraid to take a risk.
That approach has advantages and drawbacks. After twice clearing 19 feet during his high school junior season, setting a world junior record of 19-4.25, he failed to clear 18-6.5 at the IAAF World Championships in London, finishing ninth out of 11 competitors in the chase for a World Championships gold.
Of course, many would claim that it’s that risk-taking personality that allowed Duplantis to become the youngest pole vaulter at a World Championships since Soviet-Ukranian star turned IAAF administrator Sergey Bubka made his first appearance in 1983, en route to 10 world titles and an Olympic gold.
In fact, if one were looking for a single moment that typifies Duplantis’ approach to his chosen sport, it would probably be this:
Yup, that’s Duplantis clearing 10 feet … on a hoverboard. He also responded to a challenge by the current Olympic bronze medalist by clearing 18-0.5 10 times in 28 minutes in a helter skelter stunt that confirms both Duplantis’ absurd athleticism and endurance. Competing as the anchor for Lafayette’s 4×100 relay serves a purpose to help Duplantis continue refining his speed, a critical factor in vaulting success. Still, he could do that while running any leg. Running the anchor leg shows just how competitive he is.
With both a Gatorade National Boys Track Athlete of the Year award and an All-USA Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year award on his resume before his senior season, Duplantis has genuinely transcended traditionally prep athletics and emerged a bona fide international phenomenon.
“Ever since I was so young, it was always the thing,” Duplantis told Gannett partner The Advertiser. “I wanted to become an Olympic pole vaulter, I want to win the Olympic gold medal and break the world record and then I wanted to do all the things the best pole vaulter that ever lived would do.
“It kind of didn’t start to become so real until this year. It was always more of a dream. This year, it’s becoming more realistic for me.”
One of the sport’s top experts says even that self-assessment from Duplantis is almost conservative.
“It is off the scale; nobody’s seen anything like this,” Earl Bell, a pole-vault coach from Arkansas who won the 1984 Olympic bronze medal, told the Times. “He’s the Tiger Woods of pole vaulting.”