Competitors and friends. For two of the biggest names in Pole Vault here in Doha, Bjorn Otto and Konstadinos Filippidis, sport is the arena in which they have been knowing each other many years in a friendship that spans through major events, meetings and training camps. In the last major event in Athletics, the European Indoor Athletics in Goteborg, Otto was in second place and Filippidis in fourth.
“He is big athlete a good guy and I can’t wait to compete against him once again” says the German. “As for who comes out on top tomorrow, we’ll go our and we see what happens”.
His Greek rival is equally complimentary: “He is a great sportman, he won the respect of every one of us in the pole vaulting community. I hope for a good competition on Friday”.
Bjorn Otto won the silver medal in Olympic Games in London, his form remaining consistently high in recent years and allowing him to bring a challenge to the best pole vaulter in the world, Renaud Lavillenie. He explains what the reason of the success is.
“The crucial moment was the change of coach after the Olympics in Athens. He had seen me for a long time and we tried different training, but I had problems with my two Achilles and I lost a lot of time. It was a big challenge for me to try and compete again at a high level and I am pleased I made it.”
On the other hand, the problem for Filippidis reaches well out of the training track and connects to the crisis affecting the whole of Greece.
“The difficulties are many and affect all parts of our lives. For athletics, the damage was drastic as the money for federation and Olympic Committee has been cut. This problem trickles down to the athlete and this make our work harder but we try to get over this and continue on our way.”
The parallels between the two athletes extend beyond the training and competition arenas: both have a lot of reading to do lately, as Otto is preparing to become a pilot and Filippidis enrolled in an Economics PhD.
“Next Wednesday I have a test,” confesses Otto, “I am reading for exams to be a commercial pilot” – and with the heights his vaulting reached recently, one would be justified to think he is already accustomed to heights.
As for his big rival, Renaud Lavillenie, Otto keeps the door open for some big upsets.
“I try to beat him and in the last two meetings I have. He is not unbeatable, I may have not bested him in a major championship, but he is not a machine: he is human, everyone is beatable. I carefully watch what he is doing and find small points on to beat him”.
And while the German pole vaulter has already had a taste of the atmosphere over six metres (his PB is 6.01m.), the Greek champion is not far either.
“I am try the 6m and I know now it is possible for me to pass it: it is not a dream. I am not too far.”
As for the battle to take place on Friday , both athletes like Doha’s warm weather; a bit more troubling is the wind – and that has the potential to throw this competition wide open at the Qatar Sports Club.