DONETSK, Ukraine – Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie broke Sergei Bubka’s 21-year-old indoor pole vault world record on Saturday at the same Donetsk meeting where the Ukrainian great set the old mark in 1993.
Lavillenie, the Olympic champion, easily vaulted 6.16 meters at his first attempt to improve the record by one centimeter and to make the moment sweeter, Bubka was present to witness it.
An ecstatic Lavillenie, or ‘Airvallenie’ as his fans nickname him, put his head in his hands and ran round the auditorium celebrating.
“It was totally crazy. I wanted to do my best. It was incredible,” said the 27-year-old, who also sent out a jubilant tweet that he was “still in the air” over his victory.
Bubka cleared 6.15 meters in 1993 and still holds the outdoor world record of 6.14m set in 1994.
The 50-year-old former champion, dressed in a suit, was among the first to congratulate his successor.
“A new era has arrived in this sport… We expected this and we are delighted that it took place exactly here, in Donetsk,” Bubka told AFP.
“I am very fond of this boy. I am sure this is not the last summit he will reach and that other brilliant successes await him.”
Lavillenie, who subsequently made an unsuccessful attempt at 6.21m, revealed he had changed his pole in between a successful attempt at 6.01m and the record vault, something he had never done before.
“I asked for 6.16m because it was the best place to break the record of Sergei Bubka, 21 years after he set the mark,” he said.
“I thought it was the best place to try as the best was there,” he added, referring to Bubka’s presence.
Lavillenie, who has yet to win the world outdoor title having garnered two bronzes in 2009 and 2011, and silver last year, arrived in Donetsk in prime form having broken his own personal record twice last month.
The confident vaulter, from the southern French province of Auvergne, said in recent weeks he believed he was capable of smashing the record set by Bubka – whose success was something of an obsession for him.
“I hate losing,” he told AFP in May last year.
“I am like a battery that never runs flat. In life I will always want to win, in motorbiking, tennis, basketball, swimming,ping pong. As soon as I do something I go all out.”
The only thing missing now for Lavillenie is a World Championship gold medal in the outdoor event. He came third in 2009 — his international debut — and 2011, and second in Moscow in 2013 behind Germany’s Raphael Holdzeppe.
His decision to leave behind trainer Damien Inocencio for the better known Philippe d’Encausse after his Olympic gold medal in 2012, appears to be paying off.
“One can’t say I have always believed it, but for at least two years I believed he could really break this world record,” said Lavillenie’s father Gilles, who is also a pole-vaulter as is his other son Valentin.
“I still haven’t come down, but I don’t think he has come down either,” the proud father said after his son’s feat, in comments to French media.