At 17, ‘the Tiger Woods of Pole Vaulting’ Soars Ahead of His Time

Mondo Duplantis is the only high school vaulter to
have cleared 19 feet, and he has done it twice this year.

“He’s the Tiger Woods of pole vaulting.”

.. His father was an all-American pole-vaulter who jumped 19 feet 1/4 inch as a professional. His mother, Helena, a native of Sweden, was a heptathlete and volleyball player. His eldest brother, Andreas, finished as high as third at the Southeastern Conference indoor vaulting championships. The family’s middle son, Antoine, played in the Little League World Series in 2005 and is now an outfielder at L.S.U., having recently set a school record with six hits in a game.

.. At 17, Duplantis is not ready to travel regularly around the world to compete, his father said.

“He may be a good enough pole-vaulter, but he needs a little more formal and life education to do it,” Greg Duplantis said. “We’ll see this time next year.”

.. At first glance, Duplantis, thin and rangy at 5 feet 10 inches and 145 pounds, does not appear to be a world-class vaulter. Many are taller than 6 feet and heavier. But he can dunk a basketball, his father said, and has long-jumped 23 feet 3 inches. He also runs the anchor leg on Lafayette High’s 4×100-meter relay; his split has been hand-timed at 10.55 seconds.

.. He has developed strength specific to his event, in part, by hanging upside down, like a bat, in the backyard and doing inverted pull-ups, using a device fashioned from a rope, foot straps, weights and a pulley.

.. A technique favored by many vaulters is to drive the front knee high and let the trail leg swing upward like a pendulum. But Duplantis believes he generates more momentum by swinging both legs in a retro style employed by vaulters who once used rigid poles made of bamboo and aluminum.

.. And he has the speed, strength and technique to bend and control the recoil of poles designed for vaulters as heavy as 195 pounds — 50 above his own weight.

The Mysterious Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Abilities

Once thought to be rare in people with autism, found in no more than 1 out of 10 individuals, research over the past few years suggests savantism may be more common: As many as one in three people with autism may possess exceptional abilities.

.. Exactly how and why savantism happens is unclear. But some evidence suggests that savants may have experienced an undetected injury to the left hemisphere of their brain in utero or in infancy, triggering compensatory recruitment in the right brain that unleashes unusual abilities.

.. Rimland noticed that their savant skills, such as artistic expression or the ability to mentally manipulate three-dimensional (3-D) objects, were most frequently right-hemisphere faculties. Their difficulties, such as trouble communicating, often appeared in functions controlled by the left hemisphere.

.. In many types of brain injury or in dysfunction caused by stroke or neurodegenerative diseases, doctors have noticed that a defect in the left hemisphere may lead to a compensatory improvement in typically right-hemisphere functions. It’s as if the injury is “releasing the brain from the tyranny of the left hemisphere,” in Treffert’s words. No longer held in check, right-hemisphere abilities appear to suddenly blossom.

.. Bruce Miller, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, witnessed this phenomenon firsthand when some of his elderly patients who suffered from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a degenerative brain disorder that primarily affects the front left-side portion of the brain, spontaneously developed an interest in art. As the dementia progressed, these individuals became gripped by the urge to create, and their paintings improved.

.. Miller and his team theorized that the selective brain degeneration essentially ‘released’ dormant abilities in the right brain, which is dominant for some key features of artistic expression, including visual construction — the ability to copy drawings or put puzzles together — and some forms of creative thinking.

.. By the end of 2011, she had discovered that three of the first nine prodigies she investigated had been diagnosed with autism early in life but no longer met the criteria. “They no longer qualified for a spectrum diagnosis,” says Ruthsatz. What’s more, five of the nine had at least one close family member with autism.