A lot of journalism is parasitic, which is to say we rely on the work of previous authors for our ideas, and even our information, in order to write and flesh out new pieces. The medieval metaphor, ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants,’ often attributed to the genius Isaac Newton, says it better.
All of which is to preface my genuflection to that consistently superb publication, L’Equipe magazine, whose latest edition dropped through my letterbox this morning. I obviously haven’t been paying attention recently, since I missed the info that Olympic vault champ, Renaud Lavillenie chanced his arm (and legs) in a decathlon a couple of weeks ago.
Despite being beaten to the world title in Moscow recently, few would argue that Lavillenie is not the world’s leading vaulter, and the only man currently with any chance of getting close to the heights of the peerless Bubka (speaking of giants….).
Anyway, back to Lavillenie. He hardly covered himself with glory, finishing last in the Décastar, in Talence, Bordeaux two weekends ago. He had hoped to score close to 7,200 points, but ended with 6,676pts. I’ll draw a discreet veil over some of the individual performances, though I don’t doubt they can easily be found online. Suffice to say, Lavillenie finished last in the Shot, Discus, Javelin, 400 and 1500 metres; but was saved from total disgrace, by winning his speciality, albeit with a modest 5.47m, a height he would not even consider as an opener in a straight vault competition.
But to his credit, he supplied some decent one-liners about each event, such as the 100 metres – “I didn’t expect to be so slow, but at least it got me started”. “Three attempts? It went so quickly,” he said of the Long Jump. Of his pathetic 9.30m in the Shot, he admitted, “I was the only one in the competition whose implement was over 10% more than my bodyweight” (he weighs 69kgs, the shot 7.26kg). And finally, the culminating 1500 metres, following which he could only describe the whole exercise to his interviewer with, “You’ve no idea what it’s like”.
It will come as no consolation to the 27 year old Frenchman to know that close to decade before his birth, that medieval wit, Steven Ovett described the decathlon as, ‘Nine Mickey Mouse events and a slow 1500 metres’. That was a dig at twice Olympic champion compatriot Daley Thompson, who was a particular bête-noire for Ovett. But it was also a reminder that there are few athletes like Jackie Joyner Kersee, who could also win an individual event, the long jump, as well as the Heptathlon at an Olympic Games.
Lavillenie’s pole vault best is 6.02m outdoors and 6.03m indoors. That is still a long way off Bubka’s 6.14m/6.15m. Lavillenie is clearly never going to be a decathlete, and maybe his appearance in Talence was simply another payday for one of the few current top-class French athletes. He is no Mickey Mouse, but neither is he the sort of giant who wins decathlon competitions. Lavillenie should forget the multi-events, and get back to bending the bamboo, and at least try to reach the shoulders, if not surmount them, of the giant Bubka.