Mondo Duplantis Gets More Swedish as He Goes
TOKYO – Mondo Duplantis was a freshman in high school when his life changed.
A pole vault prodigy from Lafayette, Louisiana, Duplantis was months away from his first international competition, the 2015 World Junior Championships, when he received a recruiting call from a coach. The twist was that the coach was from the Swedish Athletics Association.
“He would call me and my parents every day, saying, ‘You should compete for Sweden, we’re super well organized, we’ll take care of your poles, we’ll do everything for you.’ Duplantis recently recalled. “It seemed like a really good offer. “
Duplantis has since grown into one of Sweden’s most beloved athletes, endearing himself to once-skeptical audiences by speaking Swedish in interviews, driving Swedish cars, buying accommodation in Sweden during the summer and dating. a Swedish model, Desiré Inglander. The two made headlines when they kissed on live television in early July during an athletics competition in Stockholm. (Duplantis won.)
“I think today he’s fully adopted,” said Lisa Gunnarsson, 21, from Stockholm and one of Duplantis’ training partners. “If I say I pole vault, people say, ‘Oh, yes, Mondo Duplantis. “
At the Tokyo Games, where the men’s pole vault final will take place on Tuesday, Duplantis could see his stardom rise even higher. Already the world record holder at 21, he is the favorite to win his first Olympic title in an event he has dominated for two years.
“I always thought I had the ability to be the best pole vaulter in the world,” he said before the start of the Games. “I thought so since I was little. “
In many ways, Duplantis fits perfectly with Sweden’s love for technical athletics events, said Erik Karlsson, athletics correspondent for Aftonbladet newspaper in Stockholm. The country has many indoor and outdoor facilities and good coaches. The weather is too cold to embrace sprinting, so Sweden has traditionally excelled in events like the high jump and long jump, as well as the discus.
After the Swedish athletes dominated the men’s record here last week, winning both gold and silver, Duplantis posted a congratulatory message – in Swedish, of course – on Instagram.
But at first there was suspicion and a lack of understanding as to Mondo’s motivation to compete for Sweden, Karlsson said. Many Swedes did not know that his mother, Helena, a former heptathlete, was Swedish, or that he had the option to do so because he had dual citizenship.
There was also some public reluctance to accept it because two other top athletes who became naturalized Swedes – Ludmila Engquist, Olympic 100m hurdles champion in 1996, born in Russia, and Adeba Aregawi, champion of the 2013 world in the women’s 1,500-meter event – who was born in Ethiopia – has been involved in doping scandals.
Duplantis admitted he had a practical reason to align with Sweden. In doing so, he doesn’t have to qualify for the World Championships or the Olympics by finishing in the top three in a trials competition, as he would if he represented the United States. A bad day on the track could have been enough to keep him away from the team.
“I think I would be lying if I said at the start that it wasn’t a factor,” he said.
In Sweden, Duplantis was not seen as an opportunist, said Gunnarsson, but “people just didn’t understand. He was an American, not a Swede. In the years that followed, Duplantis strove to “Swedish-ifier”, she said, by learning and speaking the language. (“Survival Swedish” is how Duplantis described his skill level.)
When asked what separates Duplantis from other vaulters, Gunnarsson cited his technique, his confidence, the large number of jumps he has made since he started jumping at the age of 3 or 4 and the fact that his trainer and father, Greg, was an All-American outfielder in Louisiana State.
“You have such a great head start” when you start jumping this young, said Gunnarsson, who recently won the women’s pole vault while competing for LSU at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. “He can jump anytime, anywhere.”
It was Duplantis’ personality, along with his show jumping skills, that made him popular in Sweden, Karlsson said. In a newspaper poll of 1,500 Swedes last year, he established himself as the country’s most popular athlete, beating football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and three-time Olympic cross-country ski champion Charlotte Kalla .
“Once people found out about her story, most of the suspicion was gone,” Karlsson said. “When he started breaking world records, nobody cared anymore.”
Today, Duplantis divides his time between Louisiana and Sweden, where summers are “magical,” he said. But while he once drove in an old Toyota, he now drives Swedish-made cars: a Volvo in Louisiana and a Polestar in Sweden.
“I think I have a really good balance between the two lives I’m living at the moment,” he said. “I have family and friends in both places.”
He also has big goals. It targets Sergey Bubka, the most legendary figure in the sport, and his collection of accomplishments.
“I want to do more than what Bubka did for sure,” said Duplantis. “More Olympics than him, more world championships.”
On a more provincial level, Duplantis has already raised the bar for Swedish vaulters, said Patrik Sjoberg, a retired Swedish high jumper who once held the world record for the event. Sjoberg, who has traveled with Swedish vaulters regularly during his career, said they could be finicky.
“They say it’s impossible to jump in bad weather; it is impossible to jump when it is raining; it’s impossible if you have a headwind; it’s impossible if you have a wind from the left or from the right, ”he said. “But Mondo proved:” Well, if you don’t want to jump in bad conditions, I’m going to do it anyway. “”
Other Swedish vaulters “are feeling a little dumb,” said Sjoberg, now that Duplantis has gotten into the habit of conquering the elements.
In the process, Duplantis has overtaken its competitors. A crowning glory could come this week.
“As long as he wins he will be a super Swede,” said Sjoberg.
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