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How destiny guided Sergey Bubka towards historic highs in athletics

Sergey Bubka, legendary pole-vaulter, said it was a young friend of him who spotted his talent and recommended him to coach Vitaly Petrov

other sports Updated: Jan 18, 2018 23:30 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Bihan Sengupta
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Sergey Bubka,Athletics,Mumbai Marathon
Sergey Bubka is now an executive member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)(HT Sports)

“If it’s not a full stadium, for me it wasn’t interesting. I tried to be like an actor. I tried to perform for the people. They gave me motivation.”

An artiste at work, pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka’s progression over the years indeed required a special source of inspiration. If bagging gold in six successive World Championships between 1983 and 1997, four Indoor World Championships and a coveted one in the 1988 Olympics wasn’t enough, his audience witnessed him break the world record 35 times, including eclipsing his own on 14 occasions.

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His luck with Olympics was indeed a blotch on his career though. Being born in the then Soviet Union, the decision of the regime to not participate in the 1984 Games meant the most successful athlete in the discipline had to opt out. He made up for it in Seoul four years later though but failing to clear the bar at the 1992 Olympics saw The Independent report his exit as “Bubka came in like a tiger but went out like a pussycat.”

A heel injury shattered his dreams in 1996 while he failed to qualify for the finals in 2000. Yet, the reason he’s still revered as one of the icons of the sport is because barring those events, matching Bubka’s highs was literally unthinkable.

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It’s often said that a coach is as good as his student. While Bubka does hold fond memories of his coach Vitaly Petrov and admits his contribution towards guiding him to where he is today, the world should perhaps be more grateful to his young 13-year-old friend who had spotted his talent.

“I never saw pole vault before I started my career. I would say there’s luck and destiny behind my career because my friend, who was 13 year’s old, had already started pole vault and I was 10 and he tried to convince his coach to bring me into the group,” Bubka, who is in town as the event ambassador of Tata Mumbai Marathon, told reporters on Thursday. “The coach heard my age and said I should start when I’m 12. That boy got very upset. He kept on saying that I was good. It’s fascinating because he was trying to convince a coach as a 13-year-old. I would thus then sprint a bit; do around 15 pull-ups and the coach would let me stay.”

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History may recall the inaugural leap as a stroke of luck, but it will also record that the 10-year-old would go on to become the first man to break the 6-metre mark. By the time the Soviet Union fell, Bubka had earned a reputation of his own and would be one of the top names to continue their career under the Ukrainian flag.

“We had an excellent atmosphere (in Soviet Union). Maybe we didn’t have the best of facilities or rather no facilities at all, but we used to play sport on the streets, we play (sic) sport at school during the breaks, we ran, we jumped, we used to play basketball, or we go to the military camp, where there would be facilities. We knew this could be dangerous but we wanted to play sports,” Bubka added.

And like several other things that has changed over the years, so has Bubka’s outdoor record of 6.14m set back in 1984 with France’s Renaud Lavillenie registering 6.16m to break it in 2015. However, that hasn’t bothered the champion much. Like most sportspersons who go by the “records are meant to be broken” phrase, Bubka too, stated that he was happy to see a new benchmark being set.

“I’m very happy that he broke my record. This is life. A new generation will come and they will do better,” Bubka, now an executive member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), further went on to add.


Olympics: 1988 (Seoul)

World Championships: 1983 (Helsinki), 1987 (Roma), 1991 (Tokyo), 1993 (Stuttgart), 1995 (Goteborg), 1997 (Athina)

World Indoor Games: 1985 (Paris-Bercy), 1987 (Indianapolis), 1991 (Sevilla), 1995 (Barcelona)

First Published: Jan 18, 2018 23:30 IST