World Athletics Championships: Bubka poles apart for sixth time in a row

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Sergi Bubka maintained an extraordinary, unmatched sequence of success last night as he won the sixth consecutive world pole vault title, writes Mike Rowbottom.

The 33-year-old Ukrainian, whose first world title in 1983 announced his arrival as the dominant force in his event, showed all his class and nerve to hold off the challenge of his younger opponents.

The moment of victory arrived as Maksim Karasov, the Russian who succeeded Bubka as Olympic champion in 1992, failed to clear 6.06m on his final attempt. Bubka took it calmly, allowing himself a grin as he paced towards the pit.

He prepared himself for an attempt to raise his outdoor world record to 6.15, but then decided against it. Six world titles. It was enough.

Bubka's gamble of passing at 5.96, the best height Karasov clear-ed, paid off. The Russian's celebrations at his success proved premature. Bubka prepared for his first attempt at 6.01. His eyes, piercingly blue in his tanned face stared down the runway. It mattered. He cleared.

Six years earlier in Tokyo, Bubka - who now lives in Monte Carlo - had secured his third world title with a similar display of nerve. Competing with a leg injury which required painkilling injections, he had failed once at 5.90 and then elected to make two attempts at 5.95.

After another failure, he was left with one attempt at the height - if he failed he would finish seventh.

After waiting for the women's 400m hurdles ceremony, he cleared; and when his only challenger, Istvan Bagyula of Hungary failed to match him, the gold was his again.

"It's not possible to beat Sergi at the moment," said Bagyula, words which have been echoed by more than one vaulter in the last 14 years.

Yesterday's title was a consolation to Bubka after his Olympic experience last summer - he had to walk away after warming up for the final because of the pain of an Achilles tendon injury. Despite that, he finished the season as the leading ranked pole vaulter in the world.

Yesterday he was competing without injury, but he failed to clear with his first attempt at 5.70 - the height which had won him his first world title in 1983.

Second time around he made it - by a huge amount - and as he began on his downward journey his fists were already clenched in relief.

Jean Galfione, the Frenchman who had won in Bubka's absence in Atlanta, was unable to find any form on this occasion. Having passed at 5.50, he failed three times at 5.70, his final attempt sending the bar writhing into space like an eel.

Britain's Nick Buckfield, by contrast, cleared 5.70 at his first attempt - the same height he had achieved in qualifying and one centimetre below his British record.

The 24-year-old from Crawley, who bears an Olympic tatoo on his shoulder, made three reasonable attempts at the next height, 5.80, but brushed off the bar each time. It was, nevertheless, the finest performance by a British vaulter in these championships.

Bubka, meanwhile, was playing a waiting game, passing at the next two heights of 5.80 and 5.86.

By the time he came to the runway again, attempting 5.91, only two men remained in competition with him - Tarasov and Dean Starkey of the United States, whose only previous experience of these championships had come in 1993, when he failed to reach the final.

Bubka cleared, again at the second attempt; his rivals took three attempts to do the same. They all moved on to 5.96. Starkey could go no further; Tarasov cleared, but failed at 6.01 and 6.06. Then there was one.