The overwhelming favorite was Sergey Bubka. He was a three-time World Champion, defending Olympic Champion, and by 1992 had set the last 16 world records in pole vaulting. On 5 August 1991 one of his world records was over 6.10 (20-0¼), which meant little to most people, but to the Imperial world, that was the first pole vault ever over clear 20 feet – and remains the only one thru 2008.
He qualified easily, and opened in the final with 5.70 (18-8¼). Missing twice at that height he then passed to 5.75, where he also failed and he was out of the competition without a height. What had happened? One theory relates to the time allowed competitors in the pole vault, which is two minutes after being called for the next jump.
As the star of the international circuit, Bubka was usually allowed to do what he wanted. But American Tim Bright had reminded the officials in Barcelona of the rules and Bubka later commented that it seemed like the clock was running faster than usual. In his absence the competition came down to two Russians, representing the Unified Team.
Maksim Tarasov and Igor Trandenkov were the only vaulters over 5.80 (19-0¼), which decided the competition. Tarasov’s first attempt clearance got him the gold medal, with silver to Trandenkov. Spaniard Javier García won the bronze medal to the delight of the Barcelona fans, with his second attempt clearance at 5.75 (18-10¼).
America’s Kory Tarpenning also made 5.75 (18-10¼), but on his third effort, and had to compete despite being booed by the partisan Spanish fans.