Sergey Bubka dominated pole vault for over a decade — in the European Championships (Outdoor and Indoor), the World Championships and World Indoor, won the Olympic gold medal in Seoul in 1988 and broke the world record 35 times. He represented the Soviet Union, until its dissolution in 1991, and then Ukraine. Now 54, he is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a Senior Vice-President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine.
As an administrator for 16 years now, Bubka is happy that the delegations of North and South Korea will march behind one flag at the Winter Olympics in February 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “This is a very good decision that the two Koreas will march together. This is the power of sports and the Olympics. A lot of backroom work was done at different layers and the IOC President Thomas Bach and his team has worked very hard. We pray this will happen. This will be fantastic to unite the Koreas and the Korean people,” said Bubka.
After the final of the pole vault event at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Bubka consoled a disappointed Renaud Lavillenie who lost to local hero Thiago Braz. Lavillenie was booed and Braz apologised to him at the medal presentation. “You see this is sport, sometimes you win at the Olympics and sometimes, not. He (Lavillenie) is human, a great athlete, a great champion. He had won the gold medal in London, it was very close,” reflected Bubka.
Bubka was in Mumbai as an International Event Ambassador of the Tata Mumbai Marathon and spoke to Sportstar.
Athletics has been blessed with remarkable sportspersons. The most recent was sprinter Usain Bolt who took the centre stage at three Olympics and four World Championships. How will athletics be without this magnificent Jamaican? He dominated for close to a decade...
If you look at athletics history, we have always had some incredible and outstanding athletes who performed well in different periods. The world saw the likes of Jesse Owens, Valeriy Brumel, Carl Lewis, Mike Powell and many more. This has been great for athletics and such athletes are not born every day. But I believe another new talent will show itself up.
Usain Bolt’s personality is unique. I remember, when I went to Jamaica in 2002 for the Junior World Championships, he was 15 years old. I saw him and Carolina Kluft. I could see something special in him. When he reached his peak in 2008, he stayed motivated as a professional, continued his career and won in Korea (Daegu). It’s not easy to stay at the top and develop... it’s challenging. He was a great talent and fantastic for our sport.
Edwin Moses ran 122 races (400m hurdles) and won 107; you broke the World record 35 times and became the first to clear 6 metres. And Bolt made 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay his own...
This is a show of character, love and passion for the sport you practice. You always want to better your performances every day. These are people with incredible talents. They work very hard to develop their skills.
On one side Bolt was displaying his great talent and on the other the World saw the ugly spectre of athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs. The Russian Federation was charged with State-sponsored doping of athletes and many of its competitors were stripped of medals...
One has to look at all sports. The doping issue is a problem for most sports and for the society. This is not confined to athletics. The IOC and the IAAF are looking to improve the system, change rules and impart knowledge on ways to protect clean athletes. There will be tough and harsh decisions taken and we will not accept cheats.
About 14000 athletes have be dope-tested before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics (Feb. 9-25, 2018); so much money has already been spent to tackle the doping menace...
Yes, that’s another step to protect clean athletes. It costs a lot of money. It would be nice if these issues disappear so that we can invest in the sport and facilities and to develop a generation of coaches and athletes. But this is the reality, some people are honest, while some others are not fair.
You won the gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. And 1992 (Barcelona) and 2000 (Sydney) were disappointing. Do you regret not winning more golds at the Olympics?
I am happy that I have an Olympic Gold medal... very happy about it.
How has pole vault progressed? The qualifying round height at Seoul was 5.4 metres and in the final, you cleared 5.9. And, at Rio, in 2016, Brazilian Thiago Braz started with a qualifying round clearance of 5.7 and in the final he upset Frenchman and defending champion Renaud Lavillenie with a 6.03 effort...
The basics have remained the same. The new generation of vaulters want to be the best, better than the previous generation. This is normal routine and process. The coaches should look to work hard on their athletes to achieve better results.
Were you surprised that Thiago won the gold at Rio, getting the better of Lavillenie?
I was not surprised because he was working with my coach Vitaly Petrov. I could see through the competition that he could spring a surprise. Vitaly is an outstanding coach.
You retired in 2001. Which particular performance has captured your imagination since?
I have talked about the achievements of Usain Bolt. And also of the great Renaud Lavillenie. The young generation has talent. I am very happy for him (Lavillenie) and for athletics for having such a wonderful sportsman.
You competed for the Soviet Union and Ukraine...
I always was a Ukranian. When Ukraine became independent, it was a great honour to compete for Ukraine.
One of your sons, Sergei Bubka, is a professional tennis player...
My kids enjoy sport. One became a professional and another has gone to the University. They decided what’s best for them. It’s their choice and I respect it. Tennis is also a great sport. I play tennis.
The 14-meet, one-day IAAF Diamond League, run in a championship format from 2017, is set for a change in 2020. How will the changes benefit athletics and athletes?
Times are changing and one must be ready and positive towards reforms and changes. For that, we need to listen to the requests of the society, the athletics community and the spectators. We must have vision. All these aspects are important. And for development, it’s important to take into consideration the coaches’ point of view and the experience of the athletes. We must work as a team and aim to make some good changes to our sport.