Saying the feat was a gift to track and field followers in the United States, Sergei Bubka of the Soviet Union yesterday became the first person to pole-vault 20 feet.

In an international meet with an all-star cast in San Sebastian, Spain, Bubka cleared 20 feet 1/4 inch. That bettered the world indoor record of 19 feet 11 1/4 inches he set Feb. 9 in the Soviet Union.

Last Saturday, at the world indoor championships in Seville, Spain, Bubka won at 19 feet 8 1/4 inches. He then failed on three attempts at 20 feet 1/4 inch. He indicated he would attempt that height again at San Sebastian, where he reportedly received an appearance fee of $35,000.

Bubka is a stocky 27-year-old athlete who holds the Olympic gold medal and the world championships indoors and outdoors. He combines speed, power and textbook technique. Since 1984, he has broken the world record 9 times outdoors, and officially and unofficially 13 times indoors.

He set the current outdoor record of 19 feet 10 1/2 inches in 1988. In a world in which almost every nation uses the metric system, he created a greater stir in 1985 when he became the first vaulter to clear 6 meters (19 feet 8 1/4 inches).

Bubka has competed often in the United States and understands the measuring system used here. A few years ago, when an American asked him about his goals, he said:

“For me, 6 meters. For you, 20 feet.”

For his latest vault, the bar was set at 6.10 meters, or 20 feet 1/4 inch (6.09 meters translates to 19 feet 11 3/4 inches). He cleared it on his first attempt without even touching the bar.

“It was very good tonight,” he told The Associated Press. “I was in good form, and I thought I was going to break the record. I’m happy because this is going to get a lot of attention in America.”

Although track and field statisticians have kept unofficial world indoor records for decades, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the sport’s world governing body, has recognized indoor records only since 1987. It has recognized outdoor records since its founding in 1912.

From 1912 to 1970, except for two spans totaling six years, United States pole-vaulters held the world outdoor record. Since 1970, they have shared it with vaulters from East Germany, Greece, Sweden, Poland, France and the Soviet Union.

by: Frank Litsky


Sergey Bubka
Sergey Bubka

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