TOKYO (Reuters) – American pole vaulter Sam Kendricks said on Friday he was looking forward to elevate his game and challenge world record holder Sweden’s Armand “Mondo” Duplantis for medals at the Olympics in Tokyo, which officially kick-off later on Friday.
Kendricks, 28, who beat Duplantis in 2019 in Doha to retain his world title and won bronze at the Rio Olympics five years ago, told reporters that he used events in Europe following the U.S. Olympic trials in June to hone his jump and will rest before flying to Tokyo for the games.
“When I go to Tokyo, I want to be well-competed and well rested,” he said. “So, hopefully will give Mondo Duplantis, the world record holder, a run for his money.”
Kendricks and Duplantis have battled for years and are heading to the tournament as contenders for medals.
Duplantis, 21, has been in terrific form over the last year, clocking the world record after he cleared 6.17 metres at a World Athletics Indoor Tour meet in Poland in February of 2020 and bettered it by one centimetre in Glasgow the same month.
He also boasts the highest outdoor pole vault when he soared 6.15m to win gold at the Rome Diamond League meeting in September last year.
But Kendricks inflicted a rare defeat on his Swedish buddy in May at the Gateshead Diamond League meet.
Mississippi native Kendricks spoke on the Zoom call in his car outside his old high school, as he was getting ready for his last practice and said he invited his hometown to watch from the bleachers before he departed on Monday for Tokyo.
He is aware he will need to be at his best to overcome the challenge of Duplantis.
“When it comes to the tools that I have at my disposal, when it comes to going toe to toe with Mondo, I realize that they may be different than it was going towards world championships in the past,” Kendricks said.
“I have got to really elevate the way I am thinking,” he added. “I have got to contend with him, just like all of us, at a higher bar than the Olympics has ever seen before.”
WINNING IS MAIN THING
Ryan Crouser, the reigning Olympic champion who broke the men’s shot put world record at the U.S. trials in June, said at the same briefing of Team USA athletes heading to Tokyo that the main goal for him at the Olympics is to come home with a gold medal than just simply throwing the furthest distance possible.
“The biggest thing going to the Olympics is doing what I can to win,” he told reporters. “On that day I am trying to throw the best that I possibly can.”
Keni Harrison, who broke the 100m hurdles world record days after failing to make the team for the 2016 Rio Olympics, was happy to be able to compete at her first Olympics, even though there will not be fans at the stadium.
Japan has mostly banned spectators from attending events amid rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
“Being able to line up next to the best in the world, I think that’s going to bring enough intensity,” she said.
“It is heartbreaking that my family won’t be there, (but) just the fact that the Olympics are happening, I am happy for that,” she added. “The goal is to win and when I go with that mindset, it kind of prepares me just visualizing a perfect race for me, from start to finish.”
Crouser said he was slightly stressed about the possibility of getting COVID-19, but felt safe with the strict protocols in place.
Olympics organisers said on Friday that three more competitors at the Tokyo Games, including one resident of the athletes’ village, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Olympics-related cases rose by 19, organisers said, bringing the total number of disclosed cases to 106.
“I am going with the mindset that it’s beyond my control if I do get it because I am doing everything within my control from getting COVID,” said Crouser, adding that he had been vaccinated.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)