Sergey Bubka broke the world record 35 times | Sunday Observer

Sergey Bubka broke the world record 35 times

12 December, 2021
Sergey Bubka broke the world record 35 times
Sergey Bubka broke the world record 35 times

“I love the pole vault because it is a professor’s sport. One must not only run and jump, but one must think. Which pole to use, which height to jump, which strategy to use. I love it because the results are immediate and the strongest is the winner. Everyone knows it. In everyday life that is difficult to prove.”

- Sergey Bubka

Sergey Bubka burst onto the international scene, winning the gold medal in pole vault at the inaugural World Championships in 1983 and ever since dedicated his life to promote athletics. He is the only athlete in the world to win a world title six consecutive times at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championships: Helsinki 1983; Rome 1987; Tokyo 1991; Stuttgart 1993; Gothenburg 1995; Athens 1997.

The Guinness Record for the most world records by an individual athlete stands at a staggering 35, under Sergey Bubka’s name in the pole vault. During the course of his illustrious career, Sergey set 17 outdoor and 18 indoor world records in between 1984 and 1994, setting a benchmark for excellence. Sergey’s average speed during pole vaulting was reportedly to be 35.7 km/h or 99 m/s or 22.2 mph.

As an athlete, possessing the speed of a sprinter, strength of a gymnast and with unprecedented explosive form off the top of the pole, Sergey became a multiple World and Olympic Champion. His speed and strength enabled him to use poles that were unusually long and stiff for better catapulting action.

As a Champion for Sport, working closely with UNESCO and as an academic for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Sergey dedicates much of his time to promoting the value of sport to young people around the globe. I was privileged to meet him and share his wealth of experience and exposure during the 17th Asian Games held in Incheon, South Korea as the Chef-de-Mission of the Sri Lanka contingent.

Birth and Growth

Sergey Bubka, Ukrainian Serhiy Bubka, was born on December 4, 1963 at Voroshilovgrad, Ukraine, USSR. He started athletics with 100m and long jump at the age of 9, but became a world-class champion only when he turned to the pole vault. When his coach, Vitaly Petrov, was transferred to Donetsk, Ukraine, Sergey was 15 but he followed him.

Until the dissolution of the USSR in late 1991, he competed for Soviet teams. The Soviet sports system rewarded athletes for setting new world records, and he became noted for establishing new records by slim margins, sometimes as little as a centimeter higher. This allowed him to collect frequent bonus payments and made him an attraction at competitions.

By 1992, he was no longer bound to the Soviet system, and signed a contract with Nike that rewarded each world record performance with special bonuses of $40,000.He has a son Sergey named after him who was a professional tennis player. His older brother, Vasiliy Bubka, was also a medal-winning pole vaulter.

Professional Career

Sergey started competing on the international scene in 1981 at the European Junior Championships, finishing seventh. The 1983 World Championships was his actual entry point to the world athletics, where a relatively unknown Sergey snatched the gold, clearing 5.70 metres (18 feet 8 inches). In subsequent years, Sergey changed the standards of pole-vaulting, setting numerous world records.

He set his first world record, clearing 5.85m on May 26, 1984 at Bratislava. He improved his world record to 5.88m a week later on June 2, 1984 in Paris, and then to 5.90m a month later on July 13, 1984 in London and to 5.94 on August 31, 1984 in Rome. Sergey first cleared 6.00 metres (19 feet 8.25 inches), long considered an unattainable height, in Paris on June 13, 1985.

Sergey had increased the world record by 21 cm (8.25 inches) between 1984 and 1988, a greater gain in 4 years than other pole-vaulters had achieved in the previous 12 years. On March 15, 1991 in San Sebastián, Spain, he became the first to jump 6.10 metres(20 feet), but a year later, at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Sergey failed to place in the event.

With virtually no opponents, he improved his own record over the years until he reached his career best. In 1994 in Sestriere, Italy, he broke his previous world record with a jump of 6.14 metres (20 feet 1.75 inches), long after many commentators assumed the great sportsman was retired.

In 1997, Sergey won an unprecedented sixth world championship in pole vaulting. He primarily vaulted on UCS Spirit poles throughout his later career. He officially retired from pole vault in 2001 during a ceremony at his Pole Vault Stars meeting in Donetsk and became an active member of the International Olympic Committee.

Sergey cleared 6.00 meters or better on 45 occasions. Until January 2014, no other athlete on earth had cleared 6.07, indoors or outdoors. As of June 2015, 6 meters had been cleared by all athletes worldwide exactly 100 times.

He broke the outdoor world record 17 times and the indoor world record 18 times. He lost his outdoor world record only once. After Thierry Vigneron, of France, broke his record on August 31, 1984 at the Golden Gala international track meet in Rome, Sergey subsequently reclaimed the record on his next attempt on the same runway, just minutes later.

He held the indoor world record of 6.15m, set on February 21, 1993 in Donetsk, Ukraine for almost 21 years until France’s Renaud Lavillenie cleared 6.16m on February 15, 2014 at the same competition in the same arena. He held the outdoor world record at 6.14m between July 31, 1994, and September 17, 2020 when Sweden’s Armand Duplantis cleared 6.15m, though since adopting rule 260.18a in 2000 the IAAF regards the indoor record as the official “world record.”

Summer Olympic Games

Despite his dominance in pole vault, Sergey had a relatively poor record in the Olympic Games. His first Olympics was in 1984 and was boycotted by the USSR. Two months before the Games he vaulted 12 cm higher than the eventual Olympic gold medal winner Pierre Quinon.

In 1988, Sergey competed in the Seoul Olympics and won his only Olympic gold medal. Sergey, 24 at the time, soared over 5.90m on his third and final attempt, setting a new Olympic record. “It was so emotional because I took leadership with a chance to become a gold medalist, otherwise if I missed, I was off of the podium,” Sergey said in an interview on the eve of the 30th anniversary in 2018. “It was unforgettable and no other competition ever compared to it,” he said.

Sergey continued: “It was so emotional and incredible psychological pressure because I dreamed of the Olympic Games. Everything was so exciting, creating such a tightness in my body. This created some problems weather conditions and a headwind.” The Seoul 1988 Games reunited the entire Olympic Movement. “I was still young, but especially now I understand it was so important to bring the world together through sport, promote the peace and start to build a new history,” Sergey said.

Sergey was impacted by his first experience residing at the Olympic Village. “We felt something different than other events, because after three consecutive troubles and boycotts by some countries, we were all together and this was something special,” said Sergey, who grew up in Voroshilovgrad, Ukraine, formerly a part of the Soviet Union. “To see so many stars, champions from different sports living together, this was so exceptionally unique and emotional for me.”

The Seoul Olympic Games were also the last for the Soviet Union as the Iron Curtain collapsed and the USSR was dissolved in December 1991. The Soviet athletes overwhelmingly topped the medal table with a total of 132, including 55 gold medals. “There were no signals that something would happen later – that the Soviet Union would disappear,” Sergey remembered. “It was one team, a united team and a great achievement. There was a beautiful atmosphere within the team.”

Sergey noted that he immensely enjoyed the days following his gold medal performance, meeting fellow athletes, exploring Seoul, attending the basketball final and walking in the closing ceremony. However, the star never won another Olympic medal over his illustrious 18-year athletics career.

“I accepted it and I was lucky to compete in four Games. I really learned a lesson regarding the boycott how dangerous and bad it is for the athletes,” Sergey said, on missing Los Angeles 1984. “I always do my best so that no boycott will happen again for future generations because the Olympic movement is so unique.” he said.

In 1992, he failed to clear in his first three attempts (5.70, 5.70, 5.75 m) and was out of the Barcelona Olympics. At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 a heel injury caused him to withdraw from the competition without any attempts. In 2000, at the Sydney Olympics he was eliminated from the final after three unsuccessful attempts at 5.70m.

The Petrov/Bubka Model

Sergey gripped the pole higher than most vaulters to get extra leverage, though he himself played down the effect of grip alone. His development and mastery of the Petrov/Bubka technical model is also considered a key to his success. The Petrov/Bubka model is measured superior to many others today, because it allows the vaulter to continuously put energy into the pole while rising towards the bar.

Most conventional models focus on creating maximum bend in the pole before leaving the ground, by planting the pole heavily on the landing pad. The Petrov/Bubka model follows the technique used by Kjell Isaksson, which concentrates on driving the pole up, rather than bending it while planting it on the landing pad, combined with high running speed. While the traditional models depended on the recoil by bending the pole, the Petrov/Bubka model may exploit the recoil of the pole and exert more energy on the pole during the swinging action.

National Olympic Committee

As President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine since 2005, he has transformed the organization into one of the most progressive in the world. It has staff based in all 27 regions with each taking responsibility for delivering an array of programs designed to bring youngsters into sport, realize the potential of the most able and promote the Olympic Movement and its values.

A National Olympic Day, the Olympic Stork which provides Olympic-themed education to more than 250,000 school classes across the country, televised annual awards and an Olympic Academy have all been established under Sergey Bubka’s reign. “NOCs must do more than select and send teams to Olympic Games,” says Sergey.

“They are at the forefront of efforts to educate young people and help them become involved in sport and adopt a healthy lifestyle. To do that we need to work together globally because if we don’t we risk losing the younger generation.”

International Association of Athletics Federations

Sergey has been involved with the IAAF since 2001 and has served as a Vice President since 2007. He remained on the Athletes’ Commission (2001-2011) and is also a Council Member for the Association for Summer Olympic International Federations. Sergey commented: “I have been working at the IAAF for a long time and my work is not limited to one area. The good of athletics is something deep in my heart.”

Sergey has been IAAF Council Member (2001-), IAAF Senior Vice President (2007–2011), Vice-President (2011-), IAAF Development Commission Deputy Chairman (2007–2011), then Chairman (2011-), IAAF Athletes Commission member (2001–2011) and IAAF Competition Commission member (2003-). He was also a Coordination Commission Chairman of IAAF World Championships in Daegu 2011 and Moscow 2013.

International Olympic Committee

Sergey first got involved with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1996 when he was elected as a Member of the Athletes’ Commission, providing input into the governance of sport from the perspective of an active athlete.

He became an IOC Member in 1999 and has been involved in a wide range of Commissions, including Chairman of the Evaluation and then the Coordination Commissions for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010.

Almost 25 years later he is still involved as an Honorary Member. “I knew that I wanted to be involved in running sport and, in particular to be involved in the Olympic Movement,” he said. At the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires he lost the vote to Thomas Bach, contesting for the post of IOC President.

International Masters Games Association

Sergey serves as the Acting President of the International Masters Games Association (IMGA) since the decision of Kai Holm to step down. The IMGA organize the World Masters Games, an event that takes place every four years and is open to athletes over the age of 35.

The last event in Auckland, in 2017, saw more than 28,000 competitors from over 100 countries taking part in 28 sports - making it the biggest multi-sport Games in history. Sergey was backed by Holm to help take the organization forward. “He is the right person to keep the IMGA relationships in good standing and continue the excellent cooperation between the IOC and the IMGA,” said Holm.

Awards and Honours

Sergey has been bestowed with a host of awards and honours: The best sportsman of the Soviet Union for three years in a row from 1984 to 1986; The Prince of Asturias Award in Sports in 1991; The Sportsman of the Year for 1997 by the influential newspaper L’Equipe; FICTS Hall of Fame in 2001; awarded with Excellence Guirlande d’Honneur in 2001;The Hero of Ukraine civilian award in 2001; A UNESCO Champion for Sport in 2003; The Marca Leyenda in 2005; The Panathlon International Flambeau d’Or for his contribution to the development and promotion of sport in 2015.

Sergey served as a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and its committee on youth policy, physical culture, sport and tourism from 2002 to 2006. Sergey is a member of the ‘Champions for Peace’ club, a group of more than 90 famous elite created by Peace and Sport, a Monaco-based international organization placed under the High Patronage of H.S.H. Prince Albert II. This group of top-level champions, wish to make sport a tool for dialogue and social cohesion.

Sergey was one of 24 athletes inducted as inaugural members of the IAAF’s Hall of Fame in 2012. He was named ‘The Best Pole Vaulter of the 1950 - 2000Half Century’and also twice named ‘Athlete of the Year’ by Track & Field News.

(The author is the winner of Presidential Awards for Sports and recipient of multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. He can be reached at [email protected]).

Sergey Bubka winning the Olympic Gold in 1988