OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Pole Vault: Bubka trades bravura for bathos: Richard Williams on the inglorious exit of a man accustomed to the heights

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The Independent Online
SERGEI BUBKA came in like a tiger but went out like a pussycat. Wearing a jungle-print tracksuit in the Ukraine's blue and yellow, the most successful pole vaulter of all time failed to clear the bar even once in the Olympic finals last night, and was roundly whistled for the brevity of his efforts.

The fight for the gold medal turned out to be between two other citizens of the former Soviet Union. It had been hard to tell Maxim Tarasov and Igor Trandenkov apart all night: tall, slender, blond, they looked like twins and displayed fraternal warmth during and after their duel.

Eventually, when both had vaulted five metres 80 centimetres but failed three times at 5.90, the countback separated them. Tarasov, 21, had the benefit of fewer failures than his fellow former European junior champion, who is four years older. The bronze medal went to Javier Garcia, a native of Barcelona who rose on gusts of Catalan enthusiasm to 5.75.

Bubka, the defending Olympic champion, and winner of all three World Championships held to date, has set a world outdoor record on 14 occasions during his 10-year career. His exploits have earned him an estimated dollars 2m ( pounds 1.1m), and he is paid pounds 70,000 a year to represent the Olympische club of Berlin, which also makes available an unlimited supply of air tickets to ease his journeys to and from his home in Donetsk.

His exit, however, was a small chapter of bathos. For a start, he aborted his first vault in mid-run before trying again and flying under the bar. His second and third, at 5.70 and 5.75, were less perfunctory but no more successful.

Afterwards, pausing briefly during a swift departure, he blamed the swirling wind, a poor choice of pole for the third jump, and the length of time it took him to prepare. 'To me,' he said, 'it looked like the watch was running faster than usual. But, of course, it could just have been my nerves playing up.' What he didn't mention was a long-standing Achilles tendon injury. His fans can take their pick.

Tarasov also mentioned the wind. He described Bubka's failure as 'a big surprise to all of us', but added: 'I think he's physically well prepared, and after the Games he'll prove it.'

(Photograph omitted)