Sky is the limit

Sergey Bubka’s previous world outdoor record stands at 6.14m, but with the new rules in place for records, Renaud Lavillenie’s 6.16 will now be the world record, not just the world indoor record. By K.P. Mohan.

For nearly three decades, we had known only one man as the ultimate artiste at the pole vault pit — Sergey Bubka.

We now have a Frenchman who has scaled beyond ‘Bubkan heights’ — Renaud Lavillenie.

Twenty-one years after Bubka set his previous world indoor record of 6.15 metres at his own backyard in Donetsk, Ukraine, Lavillenie bettered it by one centimetre in the Pole Vault Stars meeting at the same venue on February 15.

Once the ratification process is over, it will become the new world record. Bubka’s previous world outdoor record stands at 6.14m, but with the new rules in place for records, Lavillenie’s 6.16 will now be the world record, not just the world indoor record.

“I think this is a great day, a fantastic performance, I am very happy that Renaud did this record in my home city where I did 6.15,” Bubka was quoted as saying, as he watched the Frenchman go past his record on his first attempt at the Donetsk indoor meeting.

“I am a beautiful painting of the past, that always has great value, but now it is the present and future that count,” Bubka said.

“I think it’s going to take me some time to come back to earth because it’s incredible,” the IAAF website quoted Lavillenie as saying. “This is a world record that is so mythical, and to clear it on the first jump, without touching (the bar); there’s nothing to say. It’s just a moment to savour.”

The name Lavillenie (pronounced La.vil.ni) may not strike a chord straightaway for those who might have lost track of pole vault and world records since Bubka retired in 2001. Yet, the 27-year-old Frenchman has established himself as one of the best in the business through the past two years.

Lavillenie is the reigning Olympic champion, reigning world indoor champion, the silver medallist at last year’s World Championships, and the reigning European outdoor and indoor champion. Four days before his sensational world record in Donetsk, Lavillenie wrote in the IAAF diaries: “From now on, I really think that my goal can be to beat the world record; but the priority is to be regular above six metres.”

He was talking about his vaults at Rouen, France (6.04) and Bydgoszcz, Poland (6.08) this indoor season that provided him the kind of boost he was looking for. He mentioned that he was using a lengthier pole (5.20m, with a grip at 5.15m) compared to the 5.10m pole he had been using. (At 17-foot-plus that pole, a custom-made one, is by far the longest that vaulters use with a handful of exceptions.)

Lavillenie is the latest pole-vaulting star among a clutch of French vaulters beginning with Thierry Vigneron, who held five world records before being displaced by Bubka in 1984 with a jump of 5.94 to the Frenchman’s 5.91. Bubka did not look back after that, right up to 6.14, going up by one or two centimetres each time following his first six-metre vault in 1985.

The others in the French brigade include Philippe Houvion and Pierre Quinon, both world record holders at some point in their careers, and former Olympic champion Jean Galfione and 2007 and 2009 World Championship silver medallist Romain Mesnil.

Bernard Amsalem, President of the French Athletics Federation, said in a release: “Renaud Lavillenie’s jump extends far beyond athletics. In a matter of hours, amidst what is an intense period of sports news from the Winter (Olympic) Games, his jump has become one of the most striking events in the recent history of French and world sport. It’s an absolutely extraordinary achievement and one which, until now, we were more familiar with in athletics since Usain Bolt’s 9.58s in the 100m in Berlin in 2009.”

Bubka has predicted that Lavillenie has the credentials and talent to go well beyond the present mark, even up to 6.30m. Bubka set his outdoor record at the altitude of Setriere, Italy, in 1994.

The phenomenal record of the Ukrainian, now a vice president of the IAAF and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), may remain unmatched for decades to come. Lavillenie said in a recent interview that Bubka, whom he idolises, had the capacity to vault 6.20 metres during his career but his habit of improving the world record by just one centimetre probably denied him that mark.

Experts say it is the speed that Lavillenie generates over the 20 steps that he takes that matters. The Frenchman has a 60m indoors best of 7.23s, and a 100m outdoor best of 11.38s. He has cleared 7.37m in long jump.