For some athletes, the Olympics are a family affair, as siblings, cousins and even spouses chase a single dream. In this new episode of our series about Olympic families, Tokyo 2020 take a look at Renaud and Valentin Lavillenie, the French brothers who are both dreaming about Olympic medals in pole vault.
- Names: Renaud and Valentin Lavillenie
- Relationship: Brothers
- Country: France
- Sport: Athletics (pole vault)
Perhaps the most well-known member of the Lavillenie family is oldest brother Renaud, the 34-year-old former world record holder in pole vault and Olympic gold medallist. But there is also younger brother Valentin (29), who placed second in pole vault at the European Indoor Championships, and both of them have qualified for the Olympic Games.
The Lavillenie brothers began practising pole vault at a very young age, trained by their father Gilles who himself was an amateur vaulter. Both young athletes began training at Cognac Athlétique Club, before fully dedicating their lives to the sport.
Just a few years later, the Lavillenie family began making history on the global stage. Renaud won Olympic gold at London 2012 with a vault of 5.97m – an Olympic record at the time. He went on to seal his place in history by breaking the legendary Serey Bubka’s long-standing world record with a jump of 6.16m.
By 2016, both athletes had set the Olympic qualifying standard, but only Renaud was chosen to represent France at the Rio Olympics. In a challenging competition, Renaud won a silver medal against the backdrop of whistles from the crowd.
Valentin, who had watched his brother helplessly, said to French newspaper l’Équipe at the time: "Renaud has been affected by the whistles, it’s sad to have that in an athletics stadium."
With this story behind them, the natives of Clermont-Ferrand turned their focus to Tokyo 2020.
However, in 2018 Valentin broke his heel by falling on a concrete platform during a club event. It proved to be a very difficult moment for the young athlete, who underwent surgery that included having 10 screws placed in his foot.
But with the encouragement of his brother coupled with a strong desire to succeed together, Valentin has managed to return quickly to his best form and both are now looking forward to Tokyo 2020.
In their own words
Renaud on Valentin
Interview with France 3
I would like Valentin to write his own story and to set the bar as high as possible without facing comparisons.
Valentin on Renaud
Interview with MonacoInfo
Competing with him is even more magic.
Experiencing the Games together
At this year’s Tokyo 2020 Games, the two brother could compete together for France. The qualifying standard was 5.80m, 10cm higher than that for Rio 2016, and Renaud surpassed it with ease.
But for Valentin, having taken a long time to return from injury, the path to Tokyo has been long and full of pitfalls.
After doctors had told him he wouldn’t be able to compete at the highest level anymore, he proved everybody wrong by coming back even stronger, vaulting 5.82m at the Herculis Diamond League meet in Monaco in 2019.
And if they do compete together in Tokyo, it won’t be the first time the brothers have gone up against each other in such a high-stakes event.
In February 2021 in Miramas, France, Valentin stole his brother’s French indoor title with a jump of 5.77m and with it secured his first national crown. Renaud finished in third after vaulting 5.66m. Following the event, Renaud was injured and forced to forfeit the European Indoor Championships. Still, he travelled to the event to support his younger brother who claimed the silver medal.
With Tokyo 2020 less than two months away, both brothers are aiming to continue to compete in order to be in the best shape possible by the time of the Games.
"Now, this ultimate goal – and so that the circle with Renaud is complete – is to win a medal in a big competition together and to beat our own personal bests by 4cm more to become the highest-flying brothers in athletics history," Valentin declared to French daily newspaper Nice Matin. "I know that we can do it. And we really want to go for it!"