Sergei Bubka is a true legend of track and field. Now a vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and a candidate for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) presidency, Bubka not only won one Olympic gold and six world titles during his reign, but also broke the pole vault world record an astonishing 35 times.
I got the chance to talk to the legend while in the Ukraine recently for the IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk, inside the RSC Olympiyskiy.
Bubka relived fond memories of the Olympiyskiy, touched on his limited Jamaican experience and gave us an insight into Bubka, the man.
André Lowe (AL): Ok Mr Bubka, the IAAF World Youth Championships in Ukraine, being a Ukrainian legend, what does this mean to you?
Sergei Bubka (SB): Ukraine, in general, is a very sporty country and in this stadium in 1977 we hosted the European Championships, combined events match between the Soviet Union and United States and many national championships, and it’s a great honour that the IAAF entrusted us with this championships.
This will help the future of athletics in the region, with all the new facilities, and I am very happy for this championships being here in Ukraine. It will also encourage youngsters to get more involved with the sport of track and field and I am very pleased about that.
AL: We know all about Sergei the great pole vault star, tell us a little more about yourself; surprise us.
SB: First of all, you can achieve all kind of great performances, but first of all you are a human being. I remember my days as a child; now I am very happy to give back to sports because sports gave me a lot.
AL: Well, you didn’t tell us much there, but we will get back to that. When you are not wearing your IAAF hat, so to speak, how do you spend your time unwinding?
SB: For me, it’s great to find some time for myself to do something. I like to run by myself in the park in the mornings, for me that is great when I have time. I try to spend some time with nature; it’s very seldom, but it helps me to regenerate the battery.
AL: I know you are extremely popular here, but having spoken to a few locals, I understand that it’s your wife who is the favourite. Tell us some more about your family.
SB: An interesting story for you, I met my wife in this stadium (RSC Olympiyskiy) in 1983. I practised here and met her and maybe 10 months later we married.
AL: Maybe it wasn’t so difficult for you to win her over, you were already a star back then.
SB: It’s most important to be yourself. I was happy to meet her that day, and she is an excellent person who contributes a lot to my success. She is a big part of my achievements. We have two boys. Born in 1985, the older one was born just four days before, for the first time in history six metres was cleared in the pole vault. He was born on July 9 in 1985 and on July 13 I cleared six metres for the first time in history. The second boy was born in 1987.
AL: Are they also involved in track and field?
SB: No, they tried athletics for themselves, but they play tennis and the younger one still plays tennis professionally.
AL: What about you, did you play any other sport or still play when you have time?
SB: I like to play games like football and basketball. I do some biking and swimming too and in winter I like to ski; it’s important for me.
AL: And your favourite football team?
SB: Shakhtar Donetsk
AL: Well, you won’t like the fact that I support Juventus
SB: (laughs) No, Juventus beat us here in the Champions League last season. But I’ve lived here since 1979 and I have always liked football, and Shakhtar is our team and play very well. They play also very well in Champions League.
AL: Ok, well you do have a major responsibility in the IAAF, tell us some more about your role in the organisation.
SB: I’ve been a member of the council since 2001, and now I am vice-president and that means a lot to me. I am chairman of the commission for development and this is important for the sport around the world and the IAAF has a very big budget to help countries around the world to promote and develop the sport. This is a very important undertaking, and I am happy that I am entrusted as chairman of this commission. I am also deeply involved in the preparations for the World Championships in Moscow and I am just happy to be able to be giving back to the sport.
AL: It’s a good thing you are in charge of development because I am certain that Jamaica will continue to benefit and receive the IAAF’s full support.
AL: Let me know though your thoughts on Jamaica’s development in the sport and its impact internationally.
SB: I think it’s great, your schools and your tradition of athletics; you are so strong in running events and have outstanding athletes in the past and also presently. Everyone in the world highlights Usain Bolt, he is a special athlete. In 2002, you hosted the World Juniors and I was an organisational delegate.
The contributions of Jamaica towards global athletics are outstanding and, of course, I will use this opportunity to thank the national association (Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association), all the coaches because without them we won’t have any stars and champions. I wish for the athletes all the best in the future.
AL: The next time you come to Jamaica ensure that you spend some time on a beach somewhere, oh, and ask for some good Jamaican rum!
SB: (hahaha) I think I will stick to some water or soft drink, I have heard about the rum. But I look forward to having some time for myself the next time I am there.
AL: You are in the running to be the next president of the International Olympic Committee, what is your vision for the organisation and the international movement?
SB: I am very happy and proud to give back to sport and it’s important that we integrate and present the Olympic movement in every society to build connections and links with everyone. We need to engage young people to sport and educate them on Olympic values.
Many kids don’t understand that playing sports on video games is not actually playing sports. Sports and physical education in schools all over the world is no longer a priority and that is a problem for us. It’s a dangerous trend that we need to change, we need to build healthy generations. Sport teaches discipline and strong characters, and we consider this very important.
We need to fight the doping, illegal betting, we need to support the National Olympic Committees, and in my vision, I believe we need to also understand the interest of youngsters, and so I propose we establish a youth council from all over the world, to bring their ideas to the fore.
AL: Well, good luck with your IOC ambitions, it would be good to have a track and field man at the top, and I will ensure you get a bottle of Jamaican rum soon.