Pole vault legend opens door to Pinoys

By Abac Cordero (The Philippine Star)

Posted at Jan 13 2014 06:51 PM | Updated as of Jan 14 2014 02:51 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Sergey Bubka broke the world record in pole vault a staggering 35 times. He won the Olympic gold in 1988 and ruled the IAAF World Championships six consecutive times from 1983 to 1997.

Until this day, Bubka’s world record of 6.14 meters, established in 1994 in Italy, is untouched. He remains as the only man to clear 6.10 meters. He is a living legend.

The other day, the 50-year-old Ukrainian set foot on Philippine soil to be part of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) general assembly scheduled Jan. 18 at the PICC.

Bubka is currently president of the Ukraine Olympic Committee and vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations. He heads the IAAF developmental committee.

Bubka ran for president of the International Olympic Committee last September in Buenos Aires but failed against Germany’s Thomas Bach, a 60-year-old fencing gold winner in the 1976 Olympics.

Bubka’s resume is three inches thick.

Yesterday, he joined Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association chief Go Teng Kok and Patafa vice chairman Philip Juico for a poolside lunch at Sofitel Hotel.

Juico presented Bubka a book on Cory Aquino, the late Philippine president and icon for democracy.

Still looking fit, Bubka opened the lines of communication with the Filipino officials, and spoke about the many ways the IAAF can help local athletes.

If given the chance, Bubka said he will run as IAAF president in 2015, and promised to do more for the sport closest to his heart.

Bubka was told that the Philippines did well in the recent Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar. Then he spoke to pole vault coach Emerson Obiena, who came with his children, John and Emily.

He asked the Pinoy coach how many pole vaulters he has in his fold, and the Hall of Famer was told that there’s just a pool of less than a dozen.

“Pole vault is yet not a popular sport here. It’s still a baby here,” said Obiena as Bubka stood in front of him and listened.

“You see,” Bubka said, “athletics is the most popular Olympic sport and as head of the IAAF development committee we are looking for more countries and continental associations to help.”

Bubka, who stands six feet, turned his eyes on John, an 18-year-old pole vault athlete. He asked the young Filipino what his personal best is.

“It’s 4.95,” said John.

“That’s good. But you need to work harder,” said Bubka, who then opened the possibility for Obiena to train in the IAAF facility in Italy.

“You can write the IAAF or write me and we can provide the assistance. You can come to our facility in Italy. We can help you. It’s important for you to train there and grow with the others,” Bubka said.

John’s eyes lit up like those of a kid in a toy factory.

“We can provide you with the equipment and other assistance because sports and the IAAF provide a unique opportunity for everybody,” Bubka said.

The world’s greatest pole vault athlete just provided the young Filipino the golden opportunity.

It won’t happen overnight but for the meantime, John Obiena is happy with his t-shirt with Bubka’s autograph.