Mumbai Marathon ambassador Sergey Bubka's fortuitous journey to becoming pole vault legend
Bubka played the sport in an era where there was no technology to guide the athletes. But his technique and his mind helped him be better and soar higher than all of his compeititors.
"It was really exciting. You run with a stick and after you jump, you fly. If you do it wrong, you can kill yourself. It is a really serious event. But when I started, I started simple: jumping across benches or tables," says Sergey Bubka, describing how he first began the art of pole-vaulting which would propel him to legendary status.
Bubka broke the world record a whopping 35 times (17 outdoor and 18 indoor) — in fact, once he broke it, he only bettered his own record, which is testament to his dominance in the sport. His career saw him get the gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics besides six golds at the World Championships and four gold medals at the Indoor Championships.
But, as the Ukrainian is quick to point out, his introduction to the sport itself was fortuitous.
"My parents were never involved in sports. The facilities were not good too. We would play on streets and school during breaks. We would jump around, play football or basketball. We would play wherever we would find facilities. Then we would get into military camps (back in USSR) with the fear of being caught. We knew this would be dangerous as they could grab us.
"I never saw pole-vaulting before I started my career. It was my destiny which defined my career," Bubka says reminiscing about his neighbour who was into the sport. On seeing him vault with a stick, Bubka, then 10 years of age, too wanted to give it a shot, but the only coach in their village refused, saying that only kids aged 12 or older could give the sport a try.
"The coach said it was good to start early then. My friend convinced the coach that I was good and it was amazing to see how a 13-year-old convinced the coach that I had some power," says Bubka, who is in Mumbai as the international event ambassador for the 15th edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon, to be held on Sunday.
And once he started, there was no stopping him.
Bubka played the sport in an era where there was no technology to guide the athletes. But his technique helped him be better and soar higher than all of his competitors.
His background as a sprinter helped him to have a faster run-up.
He also gripped the pole, a heavier one than most others since it generated more recoil, much higher than the average vaulter, which helped him get better leverage.
"We didn't have technology, but we had eyes. We had brains. We watched, we thought about how to get better. Today it's easier, athletes have much more hep from technology and other analysts," he says with a chuckle.
Now 64, Bubka has effortlessly transitioned into sports administration. He is the vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Executive Board Member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and president of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine.
Even as he refused to be drawn into controversy regarding Russia being banned from competing in the Olympics, he speaks of his excitement at North Korea and South Korea marching under the same flag at the opening ceremony at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics next month.
"We discussed the issue a couple of days back during the executive board of IOC. I am very excited. I feel the IOC is doing an incredible job to unify, in bringing peace, bringing people and nations together," Bubka says. "What we see today is unbelievable. I will pray and look the two Korean nations to merge together and I know that with this decision they will merge under one flag. This is unbelievable power of sports and Olympics. I am very happy and proud."
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