By Omar Mohammed
NAIROBI (Reuters) - For Swedish pole vaulter Armand "Mondo" Duplantis, the only goal when he steps up to jump at his first Olympic Games in Tokyo is winning the gold medal.
The 21-year old Duplantis, a world silver medallist, already holds the world record after he cleared 6.17 metres at a World Athletics Indoor Tour meet in Torun, Poland, in February of 2020 and improved on it by one centimetre in Glasgow the same month.
He also boasts the highest outdoor pole vault when he soared 6.15m to win gold at the Rome Diamond League meeting in September last year.
At the Tokyo Olympics, due to start next Friday, Duplantis told reporters this week it was all about gold for him.
"Winning is the only goal," he said. "In a dream of course world I'd like to go and break the world record and do something very legendary at the Games, but it's my first Games and I just want to win, that's really the only thing that's on my mind right now."
He will vie for gold against the likes of American Sam Kendricks, who retained his world title in Doha in 2019 and claimed Olympic bronze five years ago.
However, Duplantis heads to Japan in terrific form.
At this month's Diamond League event in Stockholm, Duplantis put on a show, clearing 6.02m to win in a meet record. He even attempted 6.19m to try to break his world record as fans clapped him on but did not manage to clear that height.
Unlike in Stockholm, however, Duplantis must face competing without spectators in Japan.
Authorities have said the Olympics will take place without fans in host city Tokyo, as they grapple with a resurgent coronavirus which forced them to declare a state of emergency in the capital that will run throughout the Games.
While jumping during 2020 without fans gave Duplantis an idea of what it was like to compete without support, he said it was not easy to fully get used to it.
"You don't have that same spark when you are jumping, you just don't have that same adrenaline, you don't have that same motivation," he said.
"You know that TV guy is there and they are filming you, and there are people watching through the (TV) screen, you know that. But you don't feel it," he added.
However, while nothing can replace jumping in front of live fans waving flags and clapping, the grand stage of the Olympic Games promises to offer enough motivation, he said.
"I mean it's the Olympics, and it's the most important competition that I'm ever going to compete at, so I think I'm going to have all the motivation I need," Duplantis added.
It will Duplantis' first trip to Japan and said that he looked up to Japanese baseball players growing up.
"Three years ago, I bought a Shohei Ohtani jersey, this was even before he was in the MLB (Major League Baseball)," he said referring to the Japanese baseball star known as 'Shotime'.
"I was watching videos of him and I became kind of obsessed with him cause I thought the things that he was doing were so crazy. I was telling all of my friends about him, saying he is kind of this new Babe Ruth."
Duplantis was born in the U.S. state of Louisiana - his father is former pole vaulter Greg Duplantis - but in 2015 chose to compete for Sweden where his mother Helena is from.
He played football and baseball growing up but chose pole vault as it gave him "the best chance to make it to the top". He has certainly fulfilled his potential but winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics would be the icing on the cake.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Ken Ferris)