Reuters

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie retained his world indoor title on Sunday in one of the most tightly contested competitions ever seen to claim his 11th major gold medal.

 

Even by pole vaulting's own tough standards, this was always going to be fiercely fought with nine finalists boasting season's bests of at least 5.88 meters and an unprecedented 13 athletes clearing 5.60.

 

But it always seemed likely to come down to a joust between Lavillenie, who won the title in 2012 and 2016, and his great American rival Sam Kendricks, who entered the event as world leader and was unbeaten in 2017.

 

The wily Lavillenie is a supreme competitor and, after waiting until 5.70 to enter, became the only man to jump clear at 5.90.

 

That left Kendrick, who twice failed at that height, to claim silver after failing to clear 5.95 and Piotr Lisek bronze, bringing Poland their fifth medal of the championships.

Given that the 2016 pole vault at the Rio Olympics had ended at midnight, a three-hour competition and 6pm finish seemed modest by comparison but battle still continued after every other athlete had gone home.

Not that Lavillenie was too fussed, ending as the last man vaulting as he competed against himself to attempt clearance at six meters, a height still well shy of his world record 6.16.

This time he failed but the Frenchman departs Britain with more warm memories after winning the 2012 Olympic title in London.

"I'm very, very happy," he said. "The competition was very long and very intense as you can see with seven athletes trying to jump 5.90m.

"I was a little disappointed to miss my first jump at 5.90m as I know I am able to get it. But to be able to secure one more gold medal in the world championships is a crazy feeling."

World outdoor champion Kendricks said he was "ecstatic" with silver after just losing out to his great friend.

"Every time cannot be your day to win but I bow out to Renaud and understand that he is a great indoor jumper and he made those jumps when it was crucial. On Friday I said it would take something special to win and that was it," he said.

(Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Ed Osmond)