Mike Rowbottom

When it was built in the mid-1980s, the Stade Couvert Régional in Liévin was billed as the largest and most modern sports hall in Europe. In 1987 it hosted the European Athletics Indoor Championships, after which its annual Pas-de-Calais meeting provided the sport with some of its outstanding moments for more than 20 years.

In 2012, however, "technical problems" caused the arena to be closed. For an indeterminate period it remained like Sleeping Beauty. But, after six years of uncertainty over its future, the doors opened again at the end of 2017 and for athletics the grand project began all over again.

Two highly successful editions of the annual meeting have persuaded World Athletics to include Liévin in its Indoor Tour, and the amplified arena will, on Wednesday (February 19), host the penultimate stop in what has been a particularly arresting edition.

That has been due not wholly but very substantially to Mondo Duplantis, Sweden's 20-year-old US-based pole vaulter, who this weekend in Glasgow broke the indoor – and overall – world record for the second time in less than a week.

He levered himself insouciantly over 6.18 metres before standing triumphantly in the pit with his arms theatrically crossed.

From 6.17m to 6.18m. How many more incremental steps will we witness from this prodigious performer? If you are going to become a world record breaker in track and field, pole vault, along with the high jump, is the discipline to go for. 

No need to go mad – just collect your world record bonus and set the bar a fraction higher…

Like Sergei Bubka, or Yelena Isinbayeva, Duplantis has earned his right to calculated returns. And on Wednesday the eyes of athletics followers will be on what is now known as the Arena Stade Couvert to see if he can manage what would be an extraordinary hat-trick.

Given the air between himself and the bar during his record effort in Glasgow, he would appear to have plenty to spare. But that, of course, is not how sport works.

Should Duplantis, who has been vaulting since he was four-years-old, set a new mark in the northern French venue then he will be following in a rich tradition.

Eight world records have been set there – one of them in the European Indoors which announced the venue's presence on the world circuit. It may be good karma for Mondo that three of those records have been in the pole vault.

In 1993, Bubka raised his own best mark to 6.14m – just one centimetre below where he would leave the record until it was broken by Renaud Lavillenie of France when he cleared 6.16m in 2014.

Russia's Svetlana Feofanova set her fourth world record of the season in 2002 with an effort of 4.74m, and three years later Isinbayeva took the mark on to 4.89m.

Liévin has been providing top-quality athletics performances for more than 30 years and it is taking its place for the first time in the World Athletics Indoor Tour this season ©Getty Images
Liévin has been providing top-quality athletics performances for more than 30 years and it is taking its place for the first time in the World Athletics Indoor Tour this season ©Getty Images

Should another world pole vault record occur at the venue it would bring the event level with the 200m, in which four records have been set, starting with Merlene Ottey's 21.87sec in 1993.

Two years later I witnessed the second world 200m record to be set in Liévin. It had been on the cards, given the performances that season of Britain's John Regis, who had lowered his own national record to 20.47 earlier in the month.

By the end of the meeting Britain had indeed taken over the world mark of 20.36 that had been set by home sprinter Bruno Marie-Rose in winning the European indoor title in 1987.  But it was Linford Christie rather than Regis who did it.

In retrospect, this was the zenith of Christie's career. He arrived in Liévin as Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth 100m champion. By the end of the year his world title would go to Donovan Bailey and the following summer the Canadian would claim his Olympic title too as the champion was disqualified from the Atlanta Games final for two false starts.

But on that evening in Liévin his joy knew no bounds.

Running in the outside lane which Marie-Rose had occupied in setting his world mark, Christie held off a desperate charge from the outdoor world champion, Frankie Fredericks, to bring the record down to 20.25. In so doing he became the first British sprinter to claim an individual world record for 35 years.

"It feels good," he said after what was his first competitive 200m in over a year. "There were some good runners out there. I didn't know what to expect. It was a case of going out and just running."

Both Christie and Fredericks were inside the previous world record on a track known for its speed – the Namibian recorded 20.26.

Regis, who had approached the race with such high hopes, was a dazed figure afterward as he wandered disconsolately on the infield while Christie disappeared in a scrum of interested parties.

He was initially credited with a time of 20.42, but lost even that consolation when he was disqualified for encroaching on Fredericks' lane as the Namibian surged past him in the final 20 metres.

Christie, who had made a late decision to run the race having won a 60m in Vienna, had arrived in the early hours of the morning on the same day.

His spikes and running kit were even later than he was – left at Vienna airport and only turning up two hours before the meeting. He was also running with back pain which had become sufficiently worrying for him to seek urgent treatment in Munich the day after the race.

All, apparently, perfect preparation for a man two months short of his 35th birthday who claimed his first world record and the first by a British sprinter since Peter Radford, then executive chairman of the British Athletic Federation, set new marks in the 220 yards and 200m in 1960.

Linford Christie blows kisses to the crowd in Liévin after breaking the world indoor 200m record there in 1995 – one of eight world records that have so far been set in the arena ©Getty Images
Linford Christie blows kisses to the crowd in Liévin after breaking the world indoor 200m record there in 1995 – one of eight world records that have so far been set in the arena ©Getty Images

Christie's afternoon had begun ideally as he won the 60m in 6.47, taking 0.01 off his European record of the previous year. 

"The 60 was the pressure," he said. "The 200 took everything off me. But there was still a little buzz after the 60."

He acknowledged the help he had got in training alongside Fredericks for a month in Australia earlier in the year. 

"I have learned a lot from Frankie," he said. "When I got to Australia I realised that my technique was all wrong." 

The Namibian nearly caught him on the line. "I could see his knees coming," Christie said with a wide grin. "I just leaned and hoped."

The following year, Fredericks would return to the venue and lower the world record to 19.92.

Christie, whose previous best was 20.55, recalled watching Marie-Rose's performance at the 1987 European Indoor Championships from the stand, having aggravated a hamstring in an earlier round of the 200m.

Afterward, the Frenchman attributed his time to three factors – the relative hardness of the track, the fact that the slope was no more than 20 degrees at any point, and – impossible to quantify – the psychological factor.

Two of those three will not help Mondo this week. But the last could hardly be stronger as far as he is concerned.

Readers of the Swedish national paper Aftonbladet, which devoted the first seven pages of its sports section to Duplantis after his performance in Glasgow, will doubtless be preparing themselves for another seriously big read.