He stood at the end of the runway, his eyes wide in a fierce stare, screaming at himself, trying to forget the pain in his foot and to remember the motivation and emotion that had carried him to 35 world records in the pole vault.

Having summoned renewed determination, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine inverted himself and seemed to shove his way over the bar at 19 feet 8 1/2 inches today. He cleared the bar easily on the way up and just avoided it with his chest on the way down. When he landed, Bubka had become the only person to have won a gold medal in each of the six world championships held in track and field since 1983.

He later aborted an attempt to break his outdoor world record of 20-1 3/4, and was jeered by a disappointed crowd at Olympic Stadium. But that seemed a vulgar reaction to a remarkable, courageous performance in a career that has been both marvelously unsurpassed and curiously unfulfilled.

After winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Bubka failed to clear a height four years later at the Games in Barcelona, Spain. Then he withdrew from the Atlanta Games, suffering from a partly torn Achilles’ tendon in his right foot. Surgery followed last December; Bubka did not begin running again until April, and it was the final day of May before he felt confident enough to take his first vault.

But when the world championships came around, he delivered, just as he had at the previous five world championships. At 33, he has been on top for 14 years, his career having spanned the 1984 Eastern bloc boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics, the breakup of the Soviet Union and a troublesome Achilles’ tendon injury that threatened his ability to propel himself over a bar two stories high.

”This is not my best win,” Bubka said. ”I can say maybe it is my most difficult.”

Maksim Tarasov, the 1992 Olympic champion from Russia, took second place with a vault of 19-6 1/2. Dean Starkey of the United States finished third at 19-4 3/4. Except for the 1984 Summer Games, which Bubka and other Soviet pole-vaulters missed because of the boycott, Starkey’s bronze medal was the first top-three finish by an American pole-vaulter at a major international competition since Dave Roberts won a bronze medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

”He never ceases to amaze me,” Starkey said of Bubka. ”No one will ever duplicate what he’s done.”

by: Jere Longman

from: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/11/sports/bubka-captures-sixth-world-title-in-the-pole-vault.html

Sergey Bubka
Sergey Bubka

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