It is fair to say that the Russian high jumper Ivan Ukhov is feeling on top of the world as he prepares to compete in the grand prix meeting at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham today. It was very different when the 22-year-old Muscovite took part in the Athletissima Grand Prix event in the Swiss town of Lausanne on 2 September last year.
Ukhov has managed to find his way to the top of the world indoor rankings this winter, clearing 2.37 metres at the Russian Championships in Moscow last weekend and also registering jumps of 2.36m, 2.35m, 2.34m and 2.33m. When he turned up to compete in Lausanne last September he struggled to make his way to the high jump bar, let alone lever himself over it. Ukhov’s slapstick attempts can still be seen on YouTube and have made him something of an internet legend. There were over a million hits in a week when the comic cuts were first posted. One clip shows him removing his tracksuit with great difficulty, and swatting away a trackside official before he ambles up to the take-off area and flops straight down on to the landing bed, under the high jump bar.
It later transpired that Ukhov had hit the hotel bar with a vengeance prior to the competition, downing several vodka and Red Bulls. He failed to register a valid jump and was disqualified from the competition. 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 should 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.
Watch Ivan Ukhov's infamous drunken jump
“The IAAF is more than just a punitive organisation,” Ukhov’s manager, Pavel Voronkov, said. “They have very clever and very reasonable people. There’s no denying that Ivan was drunk when he competed in Lausanne but he had a fight with his girlfriend and was also upset at failing to qualify for the Olympics. Obviously, Ivan regretted very much what happened and we immediately reimbursed the organisers for all their expenses. He is still a young man and he has learnt a good lesson. I would not say that what happened in Lausanne is the reason for Ivan’s form this winter. Real men only make correct decisions in life after some confusion. I believe Ivan is the man. He is the man.”
Ukhov is certainly the man in the high jump at present. He has achieved five of the top eight performances this year and won six of his seven competitions. His consistency has earmarked him as the man to beat in the high jump at the European Indoor Championships, which take place in Turin from 6 to 8 March, although Linus Thornblad of Sweden has a 2.36m clearance to his name this year. Thornblad took the silver medal, behind his now-retired compatriot Stefan Holm, when the championships were last held, in Birmingham two years ago. Despite Ukhov’s troubles with his national federation after Lausanne, he was named on Wednesday in the 61-strong Russian team for Turin.
According to his manager, Ukhov’s twin ambitions for the rest of the winter season are to claim the European indoor crown and to jump 2.40m – a benchmark achieved by just 10 men before. His talent first came to light in the international arena back in 2005, at the European Junior Championships at Kaunus in Lithuania, where Craig Pickering (100m), Greg Rutherford (long jump) and Jessica Ennis (heptathlon) all struck gold for Britain. Ukhov won the high jump with 2.23m.
During the 2007 indoor season he jumped 2.39m in Moscow but last summer he failed to make the Russian team for Beijing after placing sixth with 2.30m in the national championships. He could only sit at home and watch as his countrymen Andrei Silnov and Yaroslav Rybakov won gold and bronze, with Britain’s Germaine Mason taking the silver.
On the rocks
When Hibernian officials turned up at an Edinburgh hotel to collect George Best to play in a Scottish Cup tie that afternoon against Ayr United in 1980 they found him in a dishevelled state in the bar. It was 11am on a Sunday morning. The French rugby union team had been playing at Murrayfield the day before and when their captain Jean-Pierre Rives heard that Best was staying at the same hotel he insisted on him joining them. A club doctor gave Best several injections but failed to revive him. Best was sacked, but reinstated a week later.
Schmolik, an international referee, was suspended after allegedly going on a vodka binge before officiating at a Belarus league match in July last year. He barely moved from the centre circle and had to be helped from the pitch, staggering and waving manically to the crowd. “I haven’t seen a drunk referee before,” said the Belarus national coach, Berndt Stange, who was at the game. “It’s just beyond my comprehension.” Schmolik was taken to hospital for tests.
See Schmolik’s frolics at www.tinyurl.com/coemqa
The reigning Olympic 100m backstroke swimming champion, unbeaten for seven years, Eleanor Holm was dropped from the US team for the 1936 Olympics after staying up every night drinking on the squad’s nine-day voyage to Berlin. She eventually collapsed into what the ship’s doctor on the SS Manhattan described as “a state close to a coma” and was diagnosed as suffering from “acute alcoholism”. Undeterred, she wined and dined with the Nazi elite in Berlin. “I enjoyed the parties, the Heil Hitlers, the uniforms and the flags,” she said. “Goering was fun. So was the one with the club foot.” That would have been Dr Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. Holm went on to find a more sober role playing Jane in the 1938 film Tarzan’s Revenge.
The captain of the Qantas flight taking the Australian team from Sydney to London for the 1989 Ashes series offered his congratulations over the public address system when news reached him that David Boon had downed 52 cans of beer, smashing Rod Marsh’s record of 45. This did not include the three cans that the Tasmanian batsman, known as “kegs on legs”, downed in the departure lounge at Sydney airport, nor the two he drank while the plane was refuelled in Singapore, nor the three he had at a cocktail party after arriving in London – before falling asleep for 36 hours and reportedly missing two training sessions.
The firebrand Scottish striker who shot Newcastle United to their last top-flight title in 1927 was accused by Hungarian officials of being “drunk and disorderly” while playing for the Tyneside club in a what developed into a fiery tour match against a Hungarian XI in Budapest in 1929. A complaint was lodged with the English FA but Gallacher escaped without punishment after offering an explanation about how he and some of his team-mates came to have alcohol on their breath. “It was a boiling hot day so we rinsed our mouths out with a drop of scotch and water,” he said.
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