The IAAF Council quietly approved 2017-2018 rule changes at its April meeting, which were published on the IAAF website a few weeks later. The changes include reducing the amount of time given for attempts in the vertical jumps from 60 seconds to 30 seconds.
"I am actually fighting against them, because it is one of the worst ideas I have ever seen," Lavillenie said. "The thing is, just one minute is actually just enough... it's just not safe [reducing the time]. Pole vault is a dangerous event."
When word began to spread of the changes, Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris said that it would negatively impact the quality of vault performances, and two-time world championships silver medalist Monika Pyrek tweeted that perhaps a rule should be considered for officials to ensure they put the bar up quickly. The elite vault community isn't unanimous, though: Olympic gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi supports the change.
If they continue to change things in negative ways for TV purposes then there will be no good performances to broadcast...— Sandi Morris (@sandicheekspv) May 18, 2017
Maybe they should make a rule for officials if we all need to fight with time!!!— Monika Pyrek (@monikapyrek) May 17, 2017
I urge everyone to not react this way to every change. The sports need change. Maybe this way tv might show more than the winning jump.— Katerina Stefanidi (@KatStefanidi) May 18, 2017
Pole vaulters often need to adjust which pole they use or where they start their approach if the wind changes direction or intensity. If their allotted time is cut in half, Lavillenie fears there will be a lot of crashes and accidents on windy days.
"There are a lot of ways to get [the event] faster than reducing the timing, which means that you get people in danger," he said. "I don't think it is a good way."
But the world-record holder isn't just passively complaining about it. He said that he is in contact with the IAAF Athletes' Commission, and he is working to get the opinion of other vaulters and show that they are a "big family" that fights together.
When asked if he would consider anything as dramatic as Tim Lobinger--who famously dropped his shorts and mooned the crowd at the 2003 World Athletics Final in protest of numerous rule changes--Lavillenie laughed and indicated he wouldn't have a similar stunt in the works.
"Nothing crazy like that," Lavillenie said. "That was just personal for him."
But Lavillenie echoed the sentiment that many in the pole vault community have felt for years: that it's not right that the IAAF has made numerous changes to the rules and technical specifications to the pole vault without ever resetting the world records.
In the years since Sergei Bubka dominated the event, the pole vault has seen the time for attempts reduced from 90 seconds to 60, the pegs that the bar rests on shortened from 75mm to 55mm, the crossbar ends changed from a square shape to a semi-circular shape, and rules prohibiting the vaulter from steadying the bar with their hand. Despite these significant changes, the IAAF never reset any records, and Bubka held the world record continuously from 1984 until 2014, when Lavillenie broke it. Bubka is a member of the IAAF Council that approves all rule changes. As the IAAF plans to make another significant change to the event, its current world-record holder feels that the records should be reset.
"The world record was with old [rules]," Lavillenie said. "We should have a new world record."
Although the IAAF has not publicly stated a reason for this change, it has repeatedly expressed a desire to make track meets run faster and to speed up the field events. Lavillenie feels there are other ways to speed up the pole vault besides reducing the amount of time allotted to the athletes. Although he did not elaborate on ways to speed up the event, three things have traditionally accomplished that: smaller fields, more aggressive height progressions, and proper officiating.
Lavillenie ended his comments by saying, "I don't think the IAAF wants to get accidents because of the timing. They just have to think about it."
Follow Becca Peter at @polevaultpower