How a USATF Loophole Allowed Mondo Duplantis to Break the American Record

Photo Credit: European Athletics

A strange thing happened in the men’s pole vault at the European Athletics Championships last month in Berlin.

Well, three strange things.

The first: 18-year-old Mondo Duplantis put the beatdown on a slew of experienced professional athletes—including world record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France—to win his first senior-level European Championship title. The second: Duplantis cleared a jaw-dropping 6.05 meter jump to accomplish the feat, which ranks as a new world junior record and the fourth-best outdoor mark in world history.

The third strange thing was when the track and field Twittersphere realized that—thanks to specific wording in the USATF rulebook—Duplantis was technically the new American record holder thanks to his status as a U.S. citizen. Nevermind that he was competing at the European Championships for Sweden, his mother’s native country and his choice of representation for the entirety of his young career.

Duplantis was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana and is a dual citizen of the United States and Sweden. When asked to clarify whether or not Duplantis’ record would be ratified, USATF Chief Marketing Officer Jill Geer responded with an email message quoting the organization’s bylaws.

“USATF record-eligibility rules currently state that American records may be set by any person who is a U.S. citizen, or by a relay team composed entirely of U.S. citizens,” quoted Geer. “All performances are submitted for ratification at the Annual Meeting, where the USATF records committee recommends the approval or rejection of a record, based on all applicable rules, to the relevant sport committee. The sport committee makes the final approval for record ratification.”

According to track and field activist Becca Peter of Pole Vault Power, “nowhere else in the sport does anyone recognize an athlete for more than one country at a time.” Peter and agent Jeff Hartwig, an Olympian and former professional pole vaulter, predicted this exact scenario at last December’s USATF Annual Meeting.

Proposals for change are already being drafted, according to sources within USATF membership who will be at the meeting. The rule was brought into the limelight thanks to Duplantis, but the potential reverberations could impact dozens of athletes. Susanna Kallur of Sweden set the world record for 60m hurdles in 2008. Internet sleuths pointed out that she, too, was born in the United States and holds dual citizenship. Ten years ago, no one was clamoring to grant her the American record, but under the currently reexamined rules, it should be hers.

One proposal may suggest rewording the current bylaw and introducing a new category of USATF records for athletes who are U.S. citizens, which would include Duplantis and Kallur.

When reached by phone this week on campus at LSU, Duplantis struggled to find the right words to address the controversy.

“It wasn’t something I was thinking about at all until afterwards and people started tagging me in posts,” the Tiger freshman said. “I don’t think about it enough to have an opinion on it. I wasn’t going for the American record, the height progression just ended up going that way. I didn’t jump six meters for the United States. I really…I don’t know. I don’t have an opinion. It’s an unusual situation.”

If the proposed rule changes pass, there’s a chance that they won’t be enacted retroactively and Duplantis will get the record. The rarity of a mark like 6.05 meters means that the Swede could hold the American record for many years to come. We’ve already established that his jump is the fourth-best in outdoor world history. But to further put Duplantis’ jump in perspective—Brad Walker’s previous U.S. record of 6.04 meters stood for a full 10 years until this summer.

Only four other American men have cleared six meters or higher: Hartwig (6.03m PB), Tim Mack (6.01m PB), Toby Stevenson (6.00m PB) and Sam Kendricks (6.00m PB). Of these, reigning world champion Kendricks is the only currently active athlete.

As for the man himself, Duplantis doesn’t have a horse in the race. The only record he’s thinking about breaking is the collegiate one. “I would hope so,” he said when asked about the NCAA record. “No one’s jumped six meters yet.”

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