article by Nicholas Pucci
During the presentation of the 1988 Seoul Games, if there was one competition in which the awarding of the gold medal seems obvious, it is the pole vault (there is no need to specify whether in the men’s or women’s field, given that the latter will be admitted only starting from the Sydney 2000 Games), in which the clear favorite is the world record holder – out and indoors – Sergej Bubkaa Ukrainian not yet twenty-five at the time of the Korean review, flying the hammer-and-sickle flag of the USSR.
Bubka is the undisputed ruler of the specialty, having already established 9 indoor world records (from 5.81 of January 15, 1984 to 5.97 of March 17, 1987 ) and as many outdoorsfrom 5.85 on 26 May 1984 up to the unattainable (for the competition) 6.06 obtained in Nice just two months before the opening of the Games.
But Bubka obviously didn’t limit himself to just the records, showing up in Seoul on the strength of the successes obtained at the 1983 Helsinki World Cup (m.5,70 in front of compatriot Volkov, m.5,60), European Indoor Championships in Athens (again with m.5,70) and Indoor World Championships in Paris (m.5,75 ahead of the French Vigneron, m.5 ,70, and his brother Vasily, m.5,60) in 1985, European Championships in Stuttgart 1986 (5.85m ahead of his brother and the Frenchman Collet, 5.75m for both), to conclude the pre-Olympic year with a double at both the Indianapolis Indoor World Championships (5.85m ahead of the American Bell and Vigneron , both at 5.80 m) which to the Outdoor ones in Rome 1987where he won the race with 5.85 m ahead of Vigneron and his compatriot Gataullin, both stopped at 5.80 m.
In short, you will understand that Bubka is now missing only the Olympic consecrationgiven that due to the “against boycott” was unable to participate in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and the Seoul Olympics represent an opportunity not to be missedeven if pole vaulting is a specialty that reserves many surprises, especially in the difficult management of attempts.
And, in fact, Bubka realizes it right from his entry into the race, at an unattainable altitude of 5.70 m for almost all the others and exceeded only in the second race, a measure that sees, in addition to the Ukrainian, only five other astisti remain in the race, namely the compatriots Gataullin (also for him the 5.70m constituted the entry into the race, but crossed on the first attempt) and Egorov, the American Earl Bell (up to now free from errors and leading the race together with Gataullin) and the formidable French couple formed by Philippe Collet and Thierry Vigneronhowever, already run into two errors each.
In a specialty that is also a “psychological warfare“, Bubka, strong of his record of m.6,06 established just two months before, “raisin” the measure of m.5,75 like his compatriots and that it is vice versa fatal to the other three opponentswith Egorov who must however “make a measurement” higher to overtake Bell in the standings.
Ed Egorov risponde”pronto” when he is the only one to cross the bar set at 5.80m, ensuring at least the bronze medalbut also momentarily taking the lead in the standings, given that Bubka and Gataullin “they pass” also this share.
Thus one climbs to 5.85m and while Bubka, undaunted, continues to watch his companions jump and also Egorov, already sure of a medal, “raisin” also the quota with the clear intention of attempting the “big shot” a m.5,90, Gataullin is the only one to face the measure, crossing it only on the third and last attempt which in any case brings him to the lead in a race which, with the bar set at 5.90m, would see Gataullin first, Egorov second and Bell third, with Bubka sensationally on the edge of the podium.
The Ukrainian has decided to play all his “sheets” at 5.90, measure where this time it is Gataullin who watches the evolution of his companions and, while Egorov gives up, however happy with the bronze conquered, Bubka fails the first two attempts, therefore having only one attempt available to take the lead or stay dry.
It must not be a particularly serene moment that the Soviet champion is experiencing, but, from the top of his immense class, manages to find the right concentration and the perfect run-up to overcome the quota and become Olympic championgiven that Gataullin’s three attempts at 5.95 m fail for an entirely Soviet podium.
E the liberating scream of Bubka as he descends onto the mattresses after having crossed the bar at 5.90m it makes clear the image of how high the tension of those moments was, remaining one of the many indelible images of the 1988 Seoul Games.