Sergey Bubka, the most dominant pole vaulter in history, might have expected to win gold medals at five successive Olympic Games. The story of his achieving the feat only once is a modern fable of how the best-laid schemes of mice and pole vaulters can go awry.
Nothing speaks more impressively to the Ukrainian’s prowess than what he accomplished outside Olympic competition: six consecutive titles at world championships, the world record broken 35 times (17 outdoors; 18 indoors), the first man to clear 6m and still the only man to scale 6.10m (20ft).
The flip side of these remarkable statistics is his dismal Olympic record, although, given that so much went wrong for him, he may regard his one triumph at the Seoul Games in 1988 as the equal of any of his feats.
In 1984, Bubka set world records either side of the Games but did not compete in Los Angeles because of the Soviet boycott. In 1992 he did not start vaulting until 5.70m at which point he fluffed two attempts. He declined a third go at this height in order to regroup. With the bar set at 5.75m he changed to a softer pole because of windy conditions and was caught out when the wind suddenly died, causing him to register a third failure.
Four years later in Atlanta, he pulled out before with a heel injury, and then in Sydney in 2000, with his powers starting to wane, he was eliminated from the final after three tries at 5.70m.
Even in 1988 he made things difficult for himself. In the final stages he dropped down to fourth place with two failures to his name — one more and he would have finished out of the meDid dals.
With the bar set at an Olympic record 5.90m, Bubka pounded down the runway, rose powerfully and cleared the bar with several centimetres to spare.
He did not know it at the time but despite all his triumphs on other occasions this was probably the most precious.
by: Jon Henderson