Talk about pressure.
"When I go to a big meet, everybody expects me to break a world record every time. You can’t improve every meet," Armand "Mondo" Duplantis told MaxPreps.
Armand is 10 years old.
The rising fifth grader at L.J. Alleman Middle School (Lafayette, La.) has broken the world pole vault record for age 10 four times this year. He first reached 11 feet, 2 inches, then eclipsed his own record in later meets by clearing heights of 12-7, 12-7 ¼ and last weekend 12-8.
His latest record came before a crowd of 10,000 during the annual North American Pole Vaulting Association Championships on a street in Clovis, Calif. He received numerous high-fives as he raced through the crowd.
"I got more excited because I made it on my last attempt," he said.
His 12-8 height also has surpassed the world record for age 11 (10-10) and age 12 (12-6). That gives him over two years (he will be 11 in November) to zero in on the record for a 13-year old (14-1).
Armand stands 4-foot-7 and weighs 80 pounds. He uses a 12-foot, 7-inch pole which is built for someone no heavier than 90 pounds.
To understand Armand’s incredible success at such a young age, one needs only to look at his parents, Greg and Helena Duplantis. Both were track standouts who met at LSU. Helena, a heptathlete, came from Sweden at age 19.
Greg is one of the fastest and most outstanding pole vaulters in USA history. He cleared a best of 19 feet, ¼ inch as a professional – still the highest by someone standing just 5-6. His best high school height of 17-11 ¾ established a national record, since broken, in 1981 during his senior year at Lafayette (Lafayette, La.).
Greg and Helena’s oldest son, Andreas, won the Louisiana state title last spring as a junior by clearing 16-6. They also have a 13-year-old son, Antoine, who has cleared 12-0 even though baseball is his specialty, and a 7-year-old girl, Johanna, who has outstanding speed.
Three-time NCAA champion Doug Fraley – Greg’s best friend – lives just two hours away. Between the influence and teaching of Fraley and Greg Duplantis, the New Orleans area has become a thriving hotbed for aspiring pole vaulters.
Some athletes find pick-up basketball games or sandlot football games, but a special breed of Louisiana teenagers comes to the Duplantis home to compete on a 150-foot, well-surfaced runway feeding into a pole vault pit.
"Pole vaulting always breaks out instead of a fight," Fraley quipped. "That’s the way a lot of arguments are settled. I give him (Armand) store credit (for reaching goals) at Cracker Barrel down the street. It’s good fun and gets them fired up."
Armand started practicing in his backyard at age four. At age six, he cleared 5-6. That was not a world record, however, because Fraley still holds that one at 6-6.
The Louisiana mighty mite says the most difficult part of vaulting is the run.
"I have to hit it almost perfect every time," Mondo said. "I use big poles for my size."
He set his first world record, 7-6, at age seven, later raising it to 7-8. World records followed at age 8 (9-6) and age nine (10-6).
"The first time was the most exciting because I was seven," Armand said. "Now it’s harder (to get overly excited). I get more excited the more people are there."
He did experience a special thrill when he set his third of four records this summer because he did it in Gothenburg, Sweden before his grandmother and grandfather – against a field of 13-year-olds.
Armand has been hurt only once while vaulting. Even that was a fluke because a weight was left in the landing area and when he came down he suffered a head injury which required six stitches.
"He’s pretty fearless. I’ve never seen him back down," Greg Duplantis said. "He’s really confident in his ability to manipulate his body. He has an innate feeling to know when he’s coming up short and knows how to abort. I try to take him as slow as possible. He takes to it incredibly fast.
"He kind of shocks me all the time. He really surprises me for a little, bitty boy of 10. It’s unbelievable. I’ve been around pole vaulting for a long time."
Fraley, who starred at Fresno State, said he has helped Armand with his approach.
"Once he gets on the pole, he’s pretty amazing," Fraley said. "I’ve never seen anything like it and I started when I was four."
The three-time NCAA champion is amazed by Armand’s work ethic.
"He’s a student of the event," Fraley said. "He’s constantly on the internet watching videos of pole vaulters. He plays pole vault games. He’ll say, 'I’m going to jump like this guy today.' He can do it all the way to guys in the 1940s who used bamboo poles.
"It’s like taking a kid, putting him in the batter’s box and say, 'I want you to hit like Barry Bonds.' It’s mind boggling and actually helps him in competition. He has such a broad technical base that he can actually get himself out of trouble and get over the bar. It’s muscle memory and very, very unique."
Apparently, Armand is quite unique off the field, too.
At the press conference prior to the meet in Clovis, he came dressed in a suit with a fancy fedora hat. He looked a little like a leprechaun. The other athletes came in, as expected, wearing t-shirts and shorts.
Armand is a good soccer and baseball player, but says he will concentrate on the pole vault once he reaches high school. His big dream down the road is six meters (19-8 ¼), which is a magic number for vaulters.
"There’s no reason that he can’t jump higher than I did," Greg says.
Armand is projected to be several inches taller than his father and he will have the same superb acceleration.
Fraley looks on the youngster as his own nephew.
"I can’t wait to see what he can do," Fraley said. "He just keeps blowing my mind. There will be a lot of pressure, but he likes that pressure."