There wasn’t 2000 of his fellow Ukrainians chanting his name, unlike during the recent IAAF World Championships final, but budding High Jump superstar Bohdan Bondarenko got a few cheers from a couple of dozen journalists at the traditional pre-event press conference ahead of the IAAF Diamond League final on Wednesday (28).
The man who had dashed through the mixed zone at a number of meetings in May and June with the mantra, “No English, no English,” decided to dispense with the translator who had been brought in on his behalf and hold his first press conference in English.
Bondarenko, now the Diamond League record-holder after his 2.41m across Switzerland in Lausanne eight weeks ago, isn’t yet completely fluent. However, just like his attempts at World record heights at various meetings over the past two months, he was prepared to courageously have a good go at what until relatively recently might have seemed to have been an impossible task.
One of the first things he revealed was that he has arrived in Zurich in possibly the best shape of his season, leaving many people pondering just how high he will jump in Zurich, where the meeting record is 2.40m and still stands in the name of the US jumper Charles Austin from 1991.
“I thought I had some problems with my ankles, and I said this to some people, but I had some physio and I was told there was no problem. I was just a little bit tired so I can go on and make some more competitions this season,” he reflected.
“I don’t know what I will jump, we will see tomorrow. I only want the weather to be better. Last year, I came to Zurich it was raining, it was rain, jump, wait,” added Bondarenko, mimicking him shivering in the cold conditions.
Regardless of the weather, one thing he is looking forward to is being able to jump without the burden of expectation on his slender shoulders.
“In Moscow there was a lot of pressure on me after what I did in Lausanne. On the internet, in the press, there were a lot of people expecting me to win and I found it difficult to deal with.
“This why my best jump of the competition in Moscow was not at 2.41m, or my first two jumps at 2.46m, but actually my jump at 2.35m. If you look at that, I was well clear, that was certainly a 2.46m jump," said Bondarenko.
"At 2.46m, I had two good attempts but I couldn’t raise myself again as I had so much emotion (after winning the gold medal). I tried to focus, to concentrate but I couldn't do it fully."
As a result of his Moscow victory, he is US$60,000 richer and could well have a second big payday on Thursday as he needs to finish no higher than third to confirm his victory in this year’s Diamond Race and take home another US$40,000.
“I will wait until the cheques arrive before deciding how to spend the money,” commented Bondarenko, who still seems slightly overawed by what he has achieved in such a short space of time. “I received so many SMSs and phone calls after the World Championships.”
Among them were the former Ukrainian record-holder Rudolf Povarnitsyn, who set what was then a World record of 2.40m back in 1985, a national record which had stood for almost 28 years despite Ukraine’s rich vein of talent in the event which now has five Ukrainians with personal bests of 2.37m or better.
“He didn’t call me, but he and his coach did call my father, who is also my coach, and they congratulated me. They said they were very pleased I had the record.”
Bondarenko, who had previously seemed a little bit of an enigma to many outside of Ukraine, also revealed the moment in his life when he suddenly realised that he had some prospects as a high jumper.
“I had tried swimming, but I was not very good, and I tried dancing, but was not very good; but when I went to the European Youth Olympic Festival in Italy in 2005 for my first competition outside Ukraine, I cleared a personal best of 2.12m (and finished second) and this is when I realised that I had some talent.
“I’m glad I’m a high jumper; that is why I tried to come back so hard after my injury problems in recent years. If I hadn’t been a professional athlete, perhaps I would have been a fisherman by now!” he joked, with a big smile on his face.
David Oliver is a more usual site at press conference and was his usual erudite self in a place where he is a familiar face. “This is the eighth year I’ve been here, I know where I am in Zurich.”
Like Bondarenko, there is the expectation that, if the weather is kind, he will produce a fast time over the barriers, perhaps even going under 13 seconds for the first time this season. He also has the Diamond Race within sight, needing to finish first or second to clinch the accolade.
“The crowd here can give you a little bit more energy but I don’t know what time I’m going to do tomorrow.
“The most important thing is just to win. You never know what conditions you might have; it might be cold, it might be raining, the conditions might not be conducive to running really, really fast. But someone has got to come across the finish line first and I’ve got to focus down to make sure that person is me.
“It’s going to be cool to unwind at the end of this season but I just stay in the moment.
“Now, the World Championships are in the past, I’ll celebrate that when I get to the end of the season. My focus is now on being here; it’s my third most important meet of the season, behind the US Championships and World Championships.
“I’ve got to stay focused and not get caught up in the season coming to an end.
"I watched it (the Moscow final) two times the same night and then no more. I had to get ready for the next race, which was Stockholm, and then I watched the Stockholm race one time, but then it was time to leave that in the past and move forward," said Oliver.
Oliver admitted that he’ll soon be ready to pack his bags one last time and return across the Atlantic.
“It’s been a bit of a grind for the last two months, living out of a suitcase, but this is also the life I love.
“I could have racked up some really big laundry bills but the meets have been nice to me, and they do the laundry for me,” said Oliver, flashing his trademark big white smile when talking about life on the road.
“I’ve only had to use the bath tub one time this year, so I think I’ve got lucky this year.”
Regardless of the financial rewards on offer, there is one other reason why Oliver likes coming to Zurich, and it’s not to pick up watches.
“It’s the other thing Switzerland is famous for. I always pick up chocolates when I’m here, OK, I also picked up a Diamond League trophy here in 2010 and I hope I pick up another one tomorrow night.
“When I first started coming to Zurich, I found they give you chocolate when you check in (at the meeting hotel) and it would all be gone by the time of the competition, but now I’ve changed a lot of my bad old habits and it’s still in the paper. I’ll wait until I get home and then I’ll unwrap them and enjoy them when I get home.
“Somebody’s suggested that I get a Diamond Race trophy made out of chocolate, but I don’t need that, man. Fat don’t fly,” laughed the lean-machine with a sweet tooth who is currently the world’s No.1 man over the barriers.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF