Breaking the British pole vault record had long been one of Steve Lewis’s goals, and tonight in the Polish city of Szczecin he finally achieved it.
Competing at the Janusz Kusociński Memorial, Lewis opened at 5.52m – 12 centimetres higher than his best jump from the rain-soaked London Grand Prix last week – and went clear first time at 5.72m, equalling his outdoor season’s best.
He was already in the lead, but sealed the victory as the bar went up to 5.82m, clearing it on his second attempt to set a British record.
Previously, the best ever vault achieved by a British athlete was the 5.81m indoor clearance achieved by Nick Buckfield 10 years ago. Buckfield also held the UK outdoor record at 5.80m, set back in 1998.
But more impressive than the record itself was Lewis’s victory over an extremely high-quality field. He defeated world champion Pawel Wojciechowski (eighth with 5.42m), Olympic champion Steve Hooker (third with 5.72m), US champion Brad Walker (second with 5.72m), German champion Malte Mohr (no-heighted at 5.42m) and world indoor and two-time European champion Renaud Lavillenie (no-heighted at 5.62m).
As his final competition before heading to the Team GB preparation camp in Portugal ahead of the London Olympics, Lewis’s confidence-boosting performance couldn’t have come at a better time. His 5.82m currently ranks him fifth in the world, but tonight he defeated three of the athletes who rank ahead of him.
Lewis, a two-time Commonwealth medallist, has made the past two World Championship finals, finishing seventh in 2009 and ninth in 2011. Indoors he was sixth at the 2010 World Indoor Championships, and earlier this year he achieved his best ever finish at a global championships by finishing fifth at the World Indoors.
But at the last Olympics in Beijing, Lewis no-heighted in the qualifying round and he will be keen to make amends at the London 2012 Games.
Tonight’s competition was also significant for Hooker. Between 2008 and 2010 the Australian was the world’s leading pole vaulter, winning gold at the Olympics, World Championships and World Indoors, as well as clearing 6.06m – a height that only world record-holder Sergey Bubka has ever bettered.
But over the past 12 months Hooker has suffered from a case of ‘the yips’, completely losing his confidence in vaulting. In his first three competitions of this year, he cleared just 4.40m, 5.00m and 5.00m.
During the summer he has no-heighted at three of his competitions on the circuit and has finished no higher than sixth in his other three appearances with a season’s best of 5.42m.
His 5.72m clearance tonight puts him tentatively back in the frame as an Olympic contender. It’s not inconceivable that he could turn things around in time for the Games.
Back in 2009 he picked up an injury before the World Championships and was a major doubt, but such was his mental strength he managed to get through qualifiying and then won gold in the final off the back of just two jumps – one failure at 5.85m and a first-time clearance at 5.90m.
by: Jon Mulkeen