Athletics: Frenchman Lavillenie soars to pole vault gold
LONDON (Reuters) - Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie produced an Olympic record jump of 5.97 meters to win gold in the men's pole vault on Friday as silver and bronze went to Germany.
Germans Bjorn Otto, 34, and his 22-year-old compatriot Raphael Holzdeppe cleared 5.91m, but Holzdeppe had more missed attempts which meant Otto took silver.
European champion Lavillenie, who also holds the world and European indoor championship titles, had been favorite for gold and looked the part in his first three vaults, sailing over at the first attempt each time to roars from the crowd.
The race for gold quickly whittled down to Lavillenie versus the German duo, who took the momentum with first-time clearances at 5.91 meters - a new personal best for Holzdeppe - while Lavillenie failed and then passed at the mark.
But the glory was to go to the Frenchman who took bronze at the world championships in Daegu last year, sailing over at 5.97 without reply from his German rivals.
"I can't really believe it. Maybe tomorrow I will wake up and realize that I am an Olympic champion. The Germans were very strong and they pushed me to my limits. This has to be the best thing in my life," the 25-year-old Lavillenie told reporters.
Otto is in the best form of his career this year, finishing second to Lavillenie at the world indoor championships and European championships, but said he would not rest with second.
"He (Lavillenie) has won every gold this year and beating me on many occasion, so he must be very proud. But the year is not over. There is still a bill that needs to be settled," he said.
Britain's Steve Lewis was fifth with an impressive 5.75m, while Australia's defending champion Steve Hooker, who has suffered from a crisis of confidence this season, made a swift exit after failing to clear his first height of 5.65 meters.
The 30-year-old had passed on the first mark of 5.50 but looked nervous before all three attempts at 5.65, crashing down onto the mat with the bar in his hands on his final try.
He then had to watch on as Lavillenie beat his Olympic record of 5.96m set in 2008.
After winning in Beijing, Hooker's dominance extended to winning the 2009 world championship and the indoor title in 2010, but he has suffered a miserable time since, first with injury and then with his confidence.
"My technique was off a bit on the first jump. It kind of threw off my rhythm, I'm not quite getting things right on the runway," Hooker said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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