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One-of-a-kind!

HOW does one describe Sergey Bubka, the ace pole vaulter who made breaking world records a habit?

If you asked the Qatari athletes who had gathered at the ASPIRE Academy’s Indoor Dome last week, the answer would have been ‘silent, matter of fact and friendly.’ But the youngsters all seemed excited to be in his presence. After all, it is not everyday that an Ukrainian legend gives you personal lessons on the tricks of the trade.

As he walked off the indoor track, the chief of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine (NOCU) took time off to speak to Doha Stadium Plus on a variety of topics.

 

The trip to Qatar

I was in Dubai for a private award function when I decided to visit my friends in Oman and Qatar. In Doha, I met Qatar Olympic Committee Secretary General Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and discussed ways of strengthening sports
co-operation between the two nations. We’ll give shape to training programmes for athletes and coaches. The ASPIRE Academy is a great initiative and the facilities here are impressive. It combines sports and education well. You can’t reach anywhere in life without education. You need to fall back on something once your sports career is over.

Role as a top administrator

I became the president of the NOCU in 2005 and it has been one of the most fulfilling phases of my life. I always wanted to continue my relationship with sports after retirement. This is a perfect fit. Sports administration is far different from being an athlete, but the background helps a lot. I personally believe all athletes should remain connected to sports, in some way, at all times. They should use their experiences to help build the future generation. I feel lucky to be heading the NOCU.

Qatar as a host of top competitions

Qatar gives so much of attention to developing sports at all levels. It has great facilities and plays host to more than 50 international events each year. Qatar shouldn’t be disappointed after losing the bid for the ’17 IAAF World Championships and should try for the ’19 edition.

Challenges faced by sports in Ukraine

Compared to Qatar, we sorely lack proper training facilities. Most of our stadiums and training grounds have become old. Fresh investments are required to transform them into world standards. We’re getting money from the state, but more is needed. Another issue is with coaches. We’ve several experienced people, but they’re mostly from the older generation. We need more young blood in coaching. But having said that, our athletes did well at the London Olympics. We were 14th overall, with six gold, five silver and nine bronze medals. It isn’t a bad result, but I feel we can do a lot better.

Sergei Bubka Jr

Many people expected him to follow in my footsteps, but I wasn’t disappointed when he decided to pursue a tennis career. I personally like the game and play it too. I gave him full freedom to choose his life. However, it also gave me my hardest time in life. In November, he fell from the third storey of a hotel in Paris during a tournament there. He broke his leg in the fall, but is slowly recovering.

Long-standing pole vault world records

I set the indoor record (6.15M) in 1993 and outdoor mark (6.14M) a year later. It’s a shame they haven’t been broken yet. Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie won at the London Olympics with a new mark (5.97M). Australian Steven Hooker has a personal best of 6.06M, but he missed most of last season. They both have strong techniques and are names to look out for. They can jump higher.

The IAAF presidency 

Senegalese Lamine Diack, the current president, has his term until ’15. He’s doing a great job. He was a good long jumper and is one of the strongest leaders in sports at present. The next elections are a long time off and there’s no point in talking about them now.

The IAAF Hall of fame

We celebrated IAAF’s centenary year in ’12 and recognised the achievements of some outstanding athletes. We’ll continue to highlight our sport through legends of the past and present. The concept of a ‘Hall of Fame’ is already there, but it’s something we really needed in athletics.

Jamaican phenomenon Usain Bolt’s domination

Usain Bolt is a unique athlete for whom no barriers are too hard to break. I don’t think his domination of the track negatively affects the sport. However, I do feel equal importance and coverage should be given to athletes from other disciplines as well. They try equally hard to put up outstanding results. There’s no doubt Bolt has been a good ambassador for the sport.

Pressure on athletes these days

It’s nothing new. Athletes have always been under tremendous pressure to perform. Although our sport has become more commercialised in recent times, I don’t agree it has added to the pressure. It’s present even at school-level competitions. It’s all about learning how to handle it. Another important thing is to have a clear plan on how many competitions you’re going to take part in a year. That’ll help avoid the senseless injuries. If an athlete exerts himself too much in his effort to churn maximum money in minimum time, he’ll suffer in the long term.

Athletes taking to social media

We live in an open society that’s increasingly using social media as a means to communicate. But the real question is why and what you communicate. An athlete is responsible for what he or she tweets. While it’s normal for athletes to let the world know about their
day-to-day activities, it isn’t going to help if they stay in front of the computer most of the time neglecting training. If you don’t do your job properly, you’re going to lose the very fans you cater to.

Mutaz Essa Barshim

He’s a great guy and genuine athlete. He’s young and has already won an Olympic bronze medal. The result speaks volumes about his capability. I’ve interacted with him and found him supremely motivated. His exploits should inspire more Qatari youngsters to take up sports.