Drunken day Olympic high-jump champion Ivan Ukhov still cannot live down
Ivan Ukhov competes at Birmingham today five years after he became a YouTube hit
Saturday 16 February 2013
For a moment, it seemed the question might be getting lost in translation. "Do people still remind you every day about what you did in Lausanne in 2008 or has that changed since you became Olympic champion?" Ivan Ukhov was asked via the Russian translator sitting next to him in the first-floor suite of a Birmingham hotel.
At the mention of "Lausanne," the Russian high-jumper – in town for the British Athletics Grand Prix at the National Indoor Arena this afternoon – halted the interpreter in her verbal stride and an animated discussion ensued in their native tongue. "Is he saying he wants to hit me for bringing it up?" the original questioner enquired. Ukhov smiled, catching the drift perfectly well in English.
The mop-topped Muscovite ascended the ultimate peak in his sport when he cleared 2.38m to win Olympic gold in London last August, but he will always be remembered for the depths to which he sank one night in Lausanne in September 2008. It later transpired that Ukhov had sunk several vodka and Red Bulls at the hotel bar before making his way to the track to compete in the annual Grand Prix meeting in the Swiss town.
That explained the slapstick behaviour that turned him into a YouTube sensation. There were more than a million hits within a week to see footage of Ukhov's drunken attempts to muster a valid jump. Clearly the worse for wear, he struggled to remove his tracksuit before swatting away a trackside official, ambling up to the take-off area and flopping down on to the landing bed – under, rather than over, the high-jump bar.
Valentin Maslakov, the head coach of the Russian athletics team, was outraged. "By competing in such a condition he has disgraced all Russian track and field athletes," he said. Maslakov recommended that Ukhov be banned for 12 months, and the All Russian Athletics Federation gave its backing to a conditional year-long suspension. However, when the matter was considered by the global governing body of the sport, the International Association of Athletics Federations, Ukhov received only a reprimand and a warning about his future behaviour.
On the eve of his appearance in Birmingham today, he had nothing stronger than a bottle of mineral water beside him. Four years on, the bad boy of Russian track and field has completed his transformation into golden boy.
In the aftermath of the Lausanne incident, he blamed his need to hit the bottle on a row with his girlfriend and his failure to make the Russian team for the Beijing Olympics.
Now, at 26, "Vanya," as he is known to his friends, has established himself as world No 1 in the high-jump game – winning world indoor gold in 2010 and European indoor gold in 2011 before bringing his Midas touch to bear in the Olympic arena last summer. His goal in 2013 is home-town gold at the world outdoor championships in Moscow in August, while he will be looking to assert his superiority in Birmingham today, with Britain's Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz among his rivals in a world-class field.
He knows he can jump high but he suspects he may never run away from the lingering memory of Lausanne. "People's memories are very short," Ukhov said, "but I think what I did in London has been forgotten more quickly than what happened in Lausanne."
High-chump: Ukhov's bad day at the bar
* Russian high-jumper Ivan Ukhov achieved notoriety – and endless inclusion on bloopers clips – five years ago after trying to compete in an event in Lausanne while under the influence of alcohol. Ukhov balanced on a hurdle as he struggled to remove his tracksuit before wobbling towards the high-jump pit and flopping on to the landing mattress after leaping under the bar
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