Many people here in Great Britain still remember you as one of the greatest athletes of the modern era. You must look back on your career with real pride?
It’s nice to hear that people in the UK remember my athletic career. I have a lot of friends in your country, which has great athletic traditions. Speaking of my achievements in sport, I worked very hard and accomplished some good results. But it is in the past now. Let other people speak about my career. I’m now involved in the Olympic Movement and administration, doing my best to promote sport all over the world. I always say that sport gave me everything I have – so now the time has come to give something back to sport and Olympic Movement.
You won six consecutive world titles and broke the world record 35 times in pole vault but is your 1988 Olympic gold at Seoul special for you and why?
Absolutely. I was an Olympian four times as an athlete and took part in five more as an administrator. Winning the best competition in the world is surely a unique experience. As well as being a part of the Games, staying in the Olympic village and feeling the spirit of the Games was so memorable. I wish every athlete could be a part of it and every sport fan in the world could share this experience through mass media – the Olympics, its friendship and sportsmanship can change our world for better!
Regarding the Seoul Olympics – the memories are great. Not only because of the gold medal I won. The 1988 Games marked the end of the Cold War and the ‘boycott era’ in sport. They made many countries in the world more open to each other. They started a new era.
You are still the world record holder – do you ever see your mark of 6.14 being beaten and who are the guys you rate currently?
I hope the sport of pole vault will go forward and the record will be beaten some time. The competition in the pole vault is very tough now which is great for the fans. There are some really talented athletes who can jump higher than they do now – Lavillenie, Hooker, Wojciechowski and others. But they need to work really hard.
Two-time Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva is another icon of the pole vault and is back in form after winning the world indoors in Istanbul. Do you think she can win in London this year?
As you maybe know, I try to avoid any predictions as we love the sport for the unpredictability first of all. Yelena will surely be a person to watch at the London Olympics. I hope her preparation will be as good as she plans. But I’m sure her opponents will be ready to fight Yelena. That maybe could end with the toughest competition we’ve seen in women’s pole vault in the recent years.
Do you still get excited in Olympic year and what do you make of the Games coming to London in 2012?
London’s preparations for the Games and the enthusiasm of the people are great. The Organizing Committee and Seb Coe have done a great job so I’m really looking forward to the Olympics. Great Britain is a birthplace of many modern sports so the athletes and the spectators will often feel like they go back home. As a IOC member, IAAF Vice President and Ukrainian NOC President I’m going to have a lot of duties before and during the Games – but I will take every opportunity to visit the competitions and practices, to communicate with my friends, with athletes in the Village and at the venues.
You are now an IAAF Vice President and a member of the Rio 2016 Coordination Commission for the International Olympic Committee. What does that entail?
Both jobs are great as I have a chance to use my knowledge and experience for the sake of sports. One of my busiest activities as an IAAF Vice President is a Development Commission which I’m a head of. We are trying to promote athletics in the countries with no great traditions in this sport, providing the federations with experienced coaches and equipment. We have also made IAAF accredited centres for talented athletes from around the world. The great thing is that we can already see the results – some athletes from previously “non-athletic” countries like Brazil and Argentina have recently become real stars of the sport. As you can see, athletics now remains the number one Olympic sport in the world due to IAAF’s educational and marketing activity all over the world.
The Rio 2016 Coordination Commission’s work is another great experience. We coordinate the preparation of the city from IOC side – and I can see by my own eyes how the Olympics has changed the country to better, how sport opens new possibilities for cooperation in economics, business, culture and how it just helps people to communicate and understand each other.
You are a proud Ukrainian but competed for much of your career for the Soviet Union. What was it like to compete for your own country?
In fact, I competed nine years for the USSR and eight years for Ukraine. There were really hard times at the late 80s – early 90s with economical, cultural and social collapse in the Soviet Union. As a result, Ukraine gained independence which opened new opportunities for all of us. There were times when Ukraine was not known in the world so the only people who promoted the country around the globe were athletes. We were first to introduce our blue-and-golden flag and our anthem stepping on the podium at the international competitions. I felt proud for what athletes have been doing and are still doing for my country.
Ukraine is a great nation with great potential, with dramatic history and bright future, with splendid tourist attractions, unique folk culture and very hospitable people. And with great sport traditions as well. I believe the guests of Euro 2012, IAAF Youth World Championship and Rhythmic Gymnastics in 2013, Eurobasket 2015 in Ukraine will fall in love with our country.
You helped in the bid process to bring football’s European Championships to Ukraine and Poland this year, what is the feeling like in the country build in ahead of this summer’s finals?
The feelings are great. Due to the huge efforts in the last two years Ukraine is now ready for Euro 2012. We have built venues and infrastructure which will serve as a long lasting legacy for football as well as for other sports. Our nation is very sportive so the enthusiasm is huge ahead of the start of the Championships. I’m very proud of what has been done and I’m sure it will be the best Euro Championships ever. It will also open new opportunities for Ukraine to host other great sport events in the close future.
Sport obviously runs in the family – your son Sergei is professional tennis player on the ATP tour – do you get to watch him much?
I certainly follow Sergei closely and use every chance to watch him playing on TV, on the web or at the court. Because of my very tight schedule it doesn’t happen as often as I would like. But I speak to him regularly. Sergei is young player but very persistent and hard-working which is good. Hopefully he will achieve the best in the great sport of tennis.
Have you any advice for Britain’s athletes ahead of competing in their own games in London this year?
The 2012 British Olympians are really lucky people – they have a unique chance to compete at their home Olympics. It will be great experience but it will be a complicated task as well. knowing that your home fans are watching you and wanting a lot from you can lead to great pressure. If the athletes deal with this pressure and overcome it they will obtain great success. I wish British athletes an inspirational and unforgettable home Olympics.
This article was written with support from Sergey Bubka, a Member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, which is a unique association of 46 of the greatest living sporting legends who volunteer their time to act as global ambassadors for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation by using their influence to highlight the plight of disadvantaged children and supporting humanitarian projects around the world – http://www.laureus.com/foundation
By Metro Sports Reporter
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