Duplantis and Lavillenie look to set out Olympic markers

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High life: Renaud Lavillenie and Armand Duplantis

Pole vault stars Armand Duplantis and Renaud Lavillenie come face to face for the first time this season on Saturday, looking to lay down markers just six months out from the Tokyo Olympics.

Two-time world champion Sam Kendricks is also in the mix in the low-key surroundings of Rouen in France.

Sweden's Duplantis, the 21-year-old poster boy of the sport, has eased into the new season in tremendous form.

His 6.01m in Duesseldorf last weekend confirmed his breakthrough last year where he set world records of 6.17m and then 6.18m indoors followed by his history-making outdoor best of 6.15m.

However, 34-year-old Lavillenie, the 2012 Olympic champion widely written off as a contender, turned back the clock in Tourcoing last weekend with a height of 6.02m.

It was the first time since 2016 that the Frenchman had crossed the symbolic six-metre barrier.

Remarkably, it came after a 2019 season which had seen him eliminated in qualifying at the world championships in Doha, his first flop at such a high level.

"It's clearly a return to my best level," Lavillenie told AFP.

"Since the winter of 2017 I have had problems, small injuries that bothered me during my preparations.

"It's now been six months that I have had no physical problems, that I can train every day, so the work pays off."

A further gauge of form will come at Torun in Poland in March at the European indoor championships.

"'Mondo' (Duplantis) is going to very tough to beat. But in a championship lot can happen and at least if I can't beat him and I manage to come second, it's more than a very good result, especially at 34 years old," the French athlete said Friday.

Both European stars will be wary of US athlete Sam Kendricks, the 2017 and 2019 world champion.

He has also enjoyed a smooth start to 2021 with a 5.81m in Duesseldorf on Sunday.

After Rouen, the three rivals will meet again at Lievin (February 9) before the All Star Polevault in Clermont-Ferrand (February 27), Lavillenie's home ground.