There's a worldwide superstar among us

Kevin Foote
Armand Duplantis competes in the pole vault event at the Beaver Relays on Friday.

Young aspiring athletes have been daydreaming in class or on a quiet summer afternoon in their backyard for generations about one day becoming superstar athletes.

For Lafayette High junior Armand Duplantis, though, it’s shouldn't be classified as dreaming any longer.

After the incredible progress he’s made in the pole vault over the last year, it’s simply calling plotting his course.

On Feb. 4, he reached 18 feet, 9.25 inches in Baton Rouge to eclipse is old high school record of 18-5.

On Feb. 11, Duplantis ascended to 18-10.25 at the Millrose Games in New York.

By March 13, he established the new U20 junior record that was set in 1989 with a leap of 19-1 at the New Balance National Indoor in New York.

Then on April 1 at the Texas Relays, Duplantis reached 19-4.25 to rise to No. 1 in the world in the current outdoors season.

“Ever since I was so young, it was always the thing,” Duplantis said. “I wanted to become an Olympic pole vaulter, I want to win the Olympic gold medal and break the world record and then I wanted to do all the things the best pole vaulter that ever lived would do.

“It kind of didn’t start to become so real until this year. It was always more of a dream. This year, it’s becoming more realistic for me.”

The 17-year-old Duplantis has actually been setting worldwide age group records since he was 7. Still, the incredible season he’s currently enjoying has surprised even his mother Helena, who along with his father Greg, coach their youngest of three sons.

“This year, he has,” mom said. “Our goal was to make the qualifying standard for the world championships. What’s shocking is if you know pole vaulting, the name of the game is to get on the biggest pole that you can get.

“If you can handle a big pole, you can jump pretty high. For his physical ability, he’s doing very humongous poles. A lot of people think that’s kind of amazing. That’s one of the reasons why he can jump so high. He can handle those poles.”

While most of his classmates are already counting the days down to summer vacation, Duplantis already has his plans for his summer pole vaulting schedule.

They include the European Championships in July in Italy and then the World Championships in August in London.

These days, he’s settling for breaking national and world records nearly every time he jumps and continuing his pursuit of Olympic fame in Tokyo in 2020.

RELATED: Duplantis copes with lofty expectations

“I think it’ll be more in my head when it’s the Olympic year and getting close to the Olympics,” Duplantis said. “For now, still focusing on the world championships this summer.

“It’s getting more realistic now that I can go to Olympics and hopefully win the gold medal. It’s not something that’s overpowering my brain.”
Perhaps when that time comes, Duplantis’ mega-star power in these parts will explode. In many ways, it already has in his mother’s native land of Sweden.

"In Sweden, he’s a pretty hot topic," she laughed.

For example, Lafayette High girls track coach Ron Baillargeon posted a video of Duplantis’ 19-1 leap on his Mighty Lions’ track Facebook account on March 15 and it’s already gotten over 21 million hits worldwide.

For now, though, Duplantis is able to walk the halls at Lafayette High without any fear of being mobbed for autographs or pictures.

“I guess maybe my close friends (know worldwide impact),” Duplantis said. “When I’m walking in the halls, no it’s not usually a big deal.”

So really, no autograph requests yet?

“No, not over here,” Duplantis laughed. “I think I’d be kind of surprised, unless they follow track.”

Most of the time, he’s perfectly fine with blazing new pole vaulting trails worldwide in the relative peace of football and baseball country.

“It kind of just depends,” Duplantis said. “Sometimes when I’m here, maybe I’d want a little more attention.

“Then when I’m in Sweden and there’s people all over me, then I’m like OK, I kind of wish I was back home.”

Lafayette High's Armand Duplantis, pictured here with his father and coach Greg, was honored as the Gatorade National Track and Field Athlete of the Year on Thursday.

Although some have described Duplantis as shy and reserved, his mother remembers "Mondo" — as he’s called in the track world — being quite the showman as a youngster.

“He’s always been kind of a little unique as far as jumping high at a young age,” Helena said. “And by doing all kind of tricks with pole vaulting and jumping, like running hurdles with the pole and then jump, or hover board and then jumps over bar and flips.

“So he’s always kind of had the attention.”

Baillargeon used to live near the Duplantis family and remembers little Mondo being a daredevil at a young age.

“They had a rope on a tree in their front yard,” Baillargeon said. “I can remember Greg telling him to climb up the rope and get a leaf off the tree. He was only 4 years old and he’d do it.”

As he grew older, Baillargeon witnessed skateboarding feats off the roof of the house.

“They were more like old-fashioned kids growing up,” Baillargeon said. “They didn’t spend all of their time inside on PlayStation or whatever video game.”

Mondo spent those years trying to keep up with older brothers Andreas and Antoine. Andreas played on the 2005 Little League World Series team and later won four state titles in the pole vault before signing with LSU.

Antoine had an elite high school career at Lafayette High and started as a true freshman at LSU last season.

WATCH: Which parent does Antoine Duplantis think is more athletic?

RELATED: Antoine Duplantis' 6-hit game makes LSU history

“Andreas was really good,” Baillargeon said. “He just wasn’t as fast or as technically sounds as Mondo is.”

Mondo played baseball and soccer until his freshman season at LHS when he began devoting all of his energy on the pole vault.

“Growing up with two older brothers who were exceptional athletes, it was kind of like it made me very competitive,” Mondo said. “I thought I was pretty good at other sports,  but I was never anything compared to them, because they were older than me and a lot more mature than me.”

“I was better than them at track. It was something I thought I was going to be more successful in and something that I liked to do more.”

It’s not certain if Mondo will continue the family’s LSU tradition after high school. Greg was a pole vaulter at LSU, where he met Helena, who was a heptathlete and a volleyball player.

Much of Mondo’s other future plans are already mapped out, however. He made the decision in 2015 to jump for Sweden at the world championship events leading up to the 2020 Olympics.

Helena Duplantis talks to son Mondo at the Beaver Relays.

“Sweden wanted Greg to be its pole vault coach,” Helena said. “I think that’s what made his decision. Before he was on the edge: ‘I live in the United States; I think I’ll compete for the United States.’ But when they gave Greg the offer to be the coach for the national team, that’s pretty nice to have my coach on the staff.”

Also, Mondo doesn’t have to qualify for the world championship with the Swedish team. To compete for USA, he’d have to qualify shortly before the event.

Now, he can go through his entire spring and summer training period already knowing his international schedule for the summer.

Until then, Mondo competes against mere mortals like Ascension Episcopal’s Kenny Odinet.

“We’re all just jumping for second,” Odinet laughed at last week’s Beaver Club Parish Relays. “His run is the best and his plant is awesome. It’s all about how consistent your run is and he’s very consistent.

“I look at what he does and try to duplicate what he does as much as possible. But his run is just so consistent.”

Armand Duplantis competes in the pole vault event at the Beaver Relays.

World Senior Outdoors Pole Vault Leaders

1. Armand Duplantis, 19-4.25

2. Sam Kendricks, Ole Miss, 19-0

3. Kurtis Marrchall, Australia, 18-8

3. Torban Laidig, Germany, 18-8

3. Audie Wyatt, Texas A&M, 18-8

6. Christopher Nilsen, South Dakota, 18-6

6. German Chiaraviglio, Argentina, 18-4.75

7. Devin King, SLU, 18-4.75

7. Matthew Ludwig, Missouri, 18-4.75

7. Jake Albright, Kansas, 18-4.75