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Don’t stop till you touch the sky

Sergey Bubka, athlete supreme, the man who was never limited by the heights that he literally achieved, is in India, as the brand ambassador for the Tata Mumbai Marathon on January 21, 2018. A profile of the prolific man by Capt Seshadri.

Picture in your mind, for just a moment, a man jumping from the ground to the roof of a two storeyed building. Now, this is no Superman or comic book hero performing a stunt, but a living, breathing individual who vaulted his way to fame, clearing 6.15 metres or, 20 feet 14 inches. A world champion pole vaulter for 21 years, the first man to breach the 6.0 metre barrier, while breaking the men’s record 35 times and bettering his own, untouched record 14 times, thus making his name synonymous with the pole vault.

Sergey Nazarovich Bubka, born on December 4, 1963, in Ukraine, part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, began his career in athletics with the 100 metres sprint and the long jump. He started competing on the international athletics scene in 1981 as a pole vaulter at the European Junior Championship, where he finished a moderate seventh. His leap to fame however, took an upward turn in 1983, with his world championship gold at Helsinki, clearing 5.70 metres (18 feet 8 inches). During the next couple of decades, he became simply unbeatable.

If the cliché ‘raising the bar’ were to be epitomised, he would be the lone author. His maiden world record of 5.85 metres, was set on May 26, 1984, a date coinciding with the conquest of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hilary, precisely 31 years earlier. After them, on earth, there were no more frontiers to conquer; for Bubka though, his achievement was but a small beginning. Just over a year later, on July 13, 1985, he cleared 6.00 metres (19 feet 8 inches), a feat that had been considered impossible by any human. Not one to rest on his pole, he went on, over the next ten years, to consistently break his records time and again, pushing himself on his own, despite the fact that there were no opponents to challenge him.

In the days before Perestroika, Soviet athletes who set world records were rewarded with bonus payments, every time they set a new record. Bubka made a name for collecting these bonuses at every meet, by beating his own record, many a time by as slim a margin as one centimetre! This constant improvement made him a star attraction and an object of much speculation at athletic meets.

The gap was too wide, too high, for the rest of the world. Until January 2014, no other pole vaulter on earth had jumped beyond 6.07 metres; Bubka, however, had cleared 6.10 metres as early as in 1991, in San Sebastian, Spain, such was his dominance over the event. On July 31, 1994, at age 31, when most athletes would have faded out, or when the world would have consigned them to retirement, Sergey Bubka reached his best ever leap of 6.14 metres (20 feet 1 ¾ inches), which still stands as the highest ever outdoor pole vault. He was not to be outdone indoors either. On February 21, 1993, at Donetsk, Ukraine, close to the town of his birth, he set the indoor world record of 6.15 metres, which stood firm for a couple of decades, till Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie cleared 6.16 metres. Ironically, this was at the same meet, at the same venue, in the same month, but 21 years later.

For an athlete of his calibre and achievements, the Olympics were a severe disappointment, his only gold coming in Seoul 1988, where he cleared 5.90 metres, far below his usual standard. It was probably a matter of pride for this great star that he retired from the pole vault in 2001, during a ceremony at his Pole Vault Stars meet in Donetsk, the very place where he established his world record.

Bubka’s secret to success could probably be attributed to a few key factors. For one, he possessed enormous strength and speed, combined with the agility of a gymnast. He would also grasp the pole at the extreme height to gain extra leverage. His style is referred to as the Petrov / Bubka technique, in which the vaulter concentrates on putting maximum energy into the bar on the upward move. This, combined with high running speed, allows the vaulter to benefit most from the recoil of the pole, thereby increasing energy into the swing.

This sporting genius was twice named Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News and is one of 24 athletes inducted as inaugural members of the IAAF Hall of Fame. Now well into his retirement, Sergey Bubka is the Senior Vice President of the IAAF and President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine. He is also an Honorary Member of the International Olympic Committee.

A little point of interest: Like many siblings who do not take after their parents, Sergei Jr is a professional tennis player.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Meeting a Legend – Linford Christie

Sandilya Venkatesh caught up with legendary runner, Linford Christie in New Delhi and he can’t stop smiling. 

Linford Christie is as large a man in person as his name is in the world of athletics. When he walks into the room he casts a shadow befitting his 6ft 2 inch frame which even at 57 years is in excellent shape.  I found a fitting definition to describe why he is a considered legend on Wikipedia

He is the only British man to have won gold medals in the 100 metres at all four major competitions open to British athletes: the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
I got a chance to catch up with him at a small dinner organised on the sidelines of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2017 which he attended as the PUMA Legends Brand ambassador. The first thing I spoke to him about was his disqualification in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics, where he was a favourite to win and was to be his swan song. I did regret leading with that statement of course, but the incredibly composed Christie fielded it with a beaming grin and poise. He did regret that he could not run that race, but chalked it up to the travails of the job – “That’s the sport – it happens sometimes” he said with such comfort and ease that one would think that it didn’t matter.
Training to be Christie
Fortunately, I moved on to his training and nutrition. With 3 – 6 hours of training every day, his routine was a grueling schedule. So much so that he would want to give up the sport every time he completed a meet. But like all good sportsmen, he would get back to the sport to continue the good work or I wondered aloud if he was a masochist? He laughs it off with equal ease. Interestingly, his nutrition was not anything much different during training as it was off. He doesn’t touch alcohol as expected. But he also doesn’t touch red meat and actively dislikes beef steaks. His primary protein sources are chicken and fish.
He continues to be built like a body builder – in his active years he was considered one of the most muscular sprinters and an example of a power athlete. Even though he was in full sleeved shirts or sweat shirts through out the weekend, his biceps were clearly visible and the size of shot puts. To the question on current fitness and exercise routine, he talked about how he is completely injury and pain free and continues to lift weights like people half his age in the the gym. That wasn’t surprising at all!
The legend now
For now, he enjoys contributing to the sport in the form of coaching and training. When asked about the nature of the sport and how it has changed, he talked about how everything has become so scientific these days and how that has unfortunately led to a lack of longevity of athletes. Usain Bolt however was the exception but also someone who, because of his sheer dominance of the sport, simply suppressed everyone else. Even though sprinters like Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin were all outstanding athletes, they were unable to shine due to Usain’s undisputed presence, he opined.
He now spends a lot of time with “Street Athletics“, a sports initiative to get under privileged children into sport. For someone who has achieved such great heights in his sport, he is incredibly humble and down to earth. Talking to him, gives you a sense that you could win the Olympic gold too – if that’s not inspiring, then what is?
If you want to read more about Christie’s achievements you can visit https://goo.gl/GJcKK2
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandilya Venkatesh is the founder of Eventjini and the Executive Editor of Finisher Magazine who is always excited about running and making others run.

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