Sergey Bubka at the Olympics

Published: 2024-03-14 - Updated: 2024-03-09
Cite: Sportsencyclo (2024). Sergey Bubka at the Olympics. https://www.olympiandatabase.com/index.php?id=387278&L=1

Introduction

Serhii Nazarovych Bubka is a retired Ukrainian pole vaulter who is widely considered to be one of the greatest athletes in the history of his sport. He was born on December 4, 1963, in Luhansk, Ukraine. In 1987 he graduated from the Kiev State Institute of Physical Culture, educated as PhD in pedagogy.

Bubka began his career in athletics as a sprinter and long jumper before switching to pole vaulting. He won his first international medal at the age of 19 when he took home the gold medal at the 1983 IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. He went on to win a total of six outdoor world championships and four indoor world championships throughout his career. Bubka also won an Olympic gold medal in 1988 [1].

Bubka is perhaps best known for breaking the world record in the pole vault 35 times throughout his career (17 outdoor, 18 indoor). He first broke the outdoor record in May 1985, and went on to set new world records before retiring in 2001 with a personal best of 6.14 meters [2].

In addition to his success in the pole vault, Bubka was also a successful sports administrator. He served as an athletes representative member of the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee from 2000 and from 2008 he is a full member of the IOC [3]. He has also been President of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee for many years [4].

Serhii Bubka has represented several different countries and national sports organizations throughout his career. Bubka started his career representing the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bubka continued to compete for the newly formed team of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and later for the Unified Team (EUN) in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

In 1993, he officially switched his allegiance to Ukraine, his home country, and competed under the Ukrainian flag for the remainder of his career. He continued to dominate the pole vaulting world, setting world records and winning numerous championships.

The official Ukrainian form of his first name in the Latin alphabet is Serhii and therefore we will go with this variation here. Where Russian variants of this name is typically translated as Sergey or Sergei Bubka the Ukrainian variants used prior to Serhii has been fx Sergiy, Serhij, Sergii or Serhiy Bubka [5].

Bubka in the Olympic Games 1988

Serhii Bubka’s Olympic career could have been initiated in 1984, one year after he won his first gold medal at the IAAF World Championships, but the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles was boycotted by the Soviet Union and a lot of other Eastern Bloc countries.

Instead his Olympic debut came in the 1988 Games in Seoul and his performance here is often regarded as one of the greatest displays of pole vaulting in history. Bubka, who was still representing the Soviet Union, was already a world record holder in the event and had won the gold medal at the two previous World Championships in 1983 and 1987.

In the Olympic final, he faced stiff competition from a talented field of pole vaulters, especially from his two teammates from the Soviet Union, Rodion Gataulin and Grigory Yegorov. However, he quickly established his dominance, clearing the bar at 5.70 meters on his second attempt.

At 5.90 meters, Bubka faced his first real challenge of the competition. He failed his first two attempts at the height, but on his third and final attempt, he managed to clear the bar with room to spare. This broke the Olympic Championship record and secured him the gold medal. Gataulin won the silver medal (5.85 meters) and Yegorov the bronze medal (5,80 meters) [6] [7] [8].

Bubka’s dominance in pole vault was not just remarkable for the heights he managed to clear, but also for the way he did it. His speed during pole vaulting and his interest in the complicated event are no doubt important explanations for his succes. He also used a technique known as the "Petrov-Bubka Technical Model," where he would contort his body around the bar as he cleared it, allowing him to clear greater heights than his competitors [9]. Vitaly Petrov was an early career coach for Serhii from the age of 11 and until 1990 that has achieved impressive results with a number of World and Olympic Champions [10].

Bubka’s Olympic Challenges

For one of the strongest pole vaulters in the men's competition of all times he still has a relatively poor record in the Olympic Games for his standards. Despite being the Olympic gold medalist from 1988, Bubka experienced a major setback at the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. This time competing for the EUN expectations were sky high. However, things didn’t go as planned.

During the qualifying round, he failed to clear the bar on his first two attempts. This put him in a difficult position, as he now had to clear the bar on his third and final attempt in order to advance to the final. Unfortunately, he failed to do so, and he was eliminated from the final with no measure [11]. For a gold medal-winning pole vaulter and defending champion this was a major disappointment. The gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics was won by Maksim Tarasov also representing the Unified Team (EUN). Tarasov cleared 5.80 meters in the final [12] [13].

Many were surprised by Bubka’s performance, as he had been the world record holder in the pole vault for almost a decade at that point.

Atlanta 1996 - Bubka unable to participate

Bubka, now representing Ukraine, was also a strong contender for the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. However, he did not even start in the pole vault qualification round due to an injury that he sustained during training just before the event.

His absence naturally gave an advantage to his competitors, who were now one less strong contender to worry about. The gold medal was finally won by Jean Galfione, France. He jumped 5.92 meters in the final and broke the Olympic record set by Bubka in the 1988 Olympics [14]. Russian athlete Igor Trandenkov took silver with the same height reflecting the quality of the field and even the bronze medal was won at 5.92 meters.

In the qualification field was also Serhii’s older brother Vasiliy Bubka who unfortunately missed his three attempts in the qualifying round.

Despite his injury, Bubka stayed in Atlanta to support his fellow athletes and attend the closing ceremony. He remained optimistic and vowed to come back stronger in the following Olympic Games.

Sydney 2000 Olympics - another disappointment

After the disappointments at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics Bubka had his sights set on becoming an Olympic gold medal winner in the Sydney 2000 Olympics. However, it was another disappointment for the athlete who at that time had already won six consecutive outdoor world championships and set a lot of world records in his career.

He faced strong opponents in the Sydney pole vaulting competition, including American Nick Hysong and Russian Maksim Tarasov, the gold medal winner from Barcelona 1992. In the qualifying round, Bubka opened at the ambitious 5.70 meters, but he did not clear that height and was out of the competition [15] [16].

In the final Nick Hysong, who had been struggling with injuries leading up to the Games, surprised everyone by clearing 5.90 meters on his first attempt, securing the gold medal. Another American Lawrence Johnson also cleared 5.90 meters but on his second attempt and he took home the silver medal and Tarasov the bronze medal with 5.90 meters on his third attempt [17].

Despite the Olympic misfortune Bubka experienced in his career, the legacy as one of the greatest pole vaulters in history remains more than intact. His six consecutive outdoor world championships and a total of 35 world records are testaments to his incredible talent and dedication to the sport. Despite his Olympic challenges his record performance in the 1988 Olympics firmly secured his place in Olympic history.

Results in the pole vault IAAF Athletics World Championships

On the contrary to his relatively poor performance at the Olympic Games, Serhii Bubka had an extraordinary performance in the IAAF Athletics Worlds Championships. As mentioned above, he won six consecutive outdoor World Championships in 1983 Helsinki, 1987 Rome and 1991 Tokyo representing the Soviet Union and in 1993 Stuttgart, 1995 Gothenburg and 1997 Athens representing Ukraine.

In addition he also won four gold medals in the IAAF World Indoor Championships in 1985, 1987, 1991 and 1995.

Bubka set his first outdoor world record, jumping 5.85 meters on May 26, 1984 in Bratislava. After that he improved his own record 16 times over the years until on July 31, 1994 in Sestriere, Italy, where he broke his previous record with a jump of 6.14 meters [18].

On August 31, 1984 in Rome Bubka became the first athlete ever to clear 6.00 meters in a pole vault competition.

Bubka held the outdoor world record from 1984 to September 17, 2020 when Armand Duplantis from Sweden jumped 6.15 meters.

Bubka also held the indoor world record for many years. He set his first indoor record in January 1984, when he jumped 5.81 meters. He improved the record several times until he in February 1993 jumped 6.15 meters. That record was broken in February 2014, when Renaud Lavillenie, France jumped 6.16 meters. Thus, his two world records were finally broken by two other pole vault Olympic champions.

Career after his retirement from pole vault

After retiring from pole vaulting in 2001, Serhii Bubka continued to make a significant impact and career in sports through his involvement in various international organizations. He was elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2008 and has served on several committees for the Olympic Movement, including the Coordination Commission for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Evaluation Commission for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the Executive Board [19].

Bubka was also elected as the President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine in 2005 and held the position until 2019 focused on developing sports in Ukraine and ensuring support and resources for Ukrainian athletes.

In addition to his work with the IOC and the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, Bubka also served as a member of the International Association of Athletics Federations Council from 2001 to 2019 (the IAAF Council - today the IAAF is renamed as World Athletics). He was instrumental in the development and promotion of athletics worldwide, and his contributions were recognized when he was awarded the IAAF Order of Merit in 2011.

Resources

[1] Worldathletics.org. Sergey Bubka. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[2] Wikipedia.org. Sergey Bubka. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[3] Olympics.com. IOC members list. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[4] Olympics.com. Mr Sergii Bubka. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[5] Wikipedia.org. Sergius. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[6] Olympedia.org. 1988 Olympic Games. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[7] David Wallechinsky. The Complete Book of the Olympics, p. 214-216. Aurum Press Limited, London, U.K.. Published 2008.
[8] Miller, David. Athens to Athens - The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC 1894-2004, p. 258 ff.. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, U.K.. Published 2003.
[9] Sundayobserver.lk. Sergey Bubka broke the world record 35 times. Published 2021. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[10] Wikipedia.org. Vitaly Petrov. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[11] David Wallechinsky. The Complete Book of the Olympics. Aurum Press Limited, London, U.K.. Published 2008.
[12] Olympedia.org. 1992 Olympic Games. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[13] Miller, David. Athens to Athens - The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC 1894-2004. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, U.K.. Published 2003.
[14] Olympedia.org. 1996 Olympic Games. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[15] David Wallechinsky. The Complete Book of the Olympics. Aurum Press Limited, London, U.K.. Published 2008.
[16] Miller, David. Athens to Athens - The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC 1894-2004. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, U.K.. Published 2003.
[17] Olympedia.org. 2000 Olympic Games. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[18] Sundayobserver.lk. Sergey Bubka broke the world record 35 times. Published 2021. Last visited 2024-05-26.
[19] Olympics.com. Mr Sergii Bubka. Last visited 2024-05-26.
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