Renaud Lavillenie has emerged as France’s main Olympic gold medal hope after a masterful pole vaulting display here fired out a warning to rivals ahead of this summer’s London Games.
In cold, blustery conditions, the 24-year-old from the central city of Clermont won a high-level competition with a best of 5.90 metres, a new record for the Golden Spike meet and a world-leading mark.
“It was a great start to the season,” Lavillenie said of his winning vault.
“I’m not unbeatable, but it’s a good response to (Bjorn) Otto,” who had set the previous world lead of 5.83m on Wednesday.
Lavillenie, who won the world indoor title in Istanbul in March ahead of Otto, added: “I’ve never vaulted so high for my outdoor season opener.
“I remained in control and demonstrated that I learnt some lessons from Daegu (where he won bronze).
“My goal coming into this competition was to set a new meet record, which I did when I went over at 5.78m. What came after was the cherry on the cake.
“At the start of an Olympic season, I nailed a 5.90m to send out a message to my rivals.”
His run to form could not have come at a better time.
Australia’s defending Olympic champion Steve Hooker is still to recover his true form after an injury-plagued couple of seasons.
And Lavillenie’s main competition now seems likely to come from German duo Otto and Malte Mohr, Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski and Cuban Lazaro Borges the latter two the surprise podium toppers at last year’s Daegu world championships.
The French athletics federation will be crossing their fingers that Lavillenie arrives in London in tip-top shape as their cupboard of potential medallists looks particularly bare.
Christophe Lemaitre, heralded as Europe’s new sprinting sensation after setting a new French record of 9.92sec last season, opened this year with a disappointing 10.46sec but improved to 10.05 with a tailwind just above the maximum limit.
Lemaitre is yet to decide whether to double up in the sprints in London, but he will likely definitely compete in the 200m, an event in which there is far less competition for a podium place that the blue ribbon 100m.
Another medal hopeful would surely have been triple jump tyro Teddy Tamgho, the world indoor record holder.
But he is yet to jump this season after coming back from injury and a six-month ban from the French federation after a violent altercation with a female athlete and two coaches.
Yoann Diniz, in the 50km walk, and Vanessa Boslak in the women’s pole vault, remain France’s other main hopes in the British capital.
By Luke Phillips