Bohdan Bondarenko must have figured he was on to something big when the crowd roared louder at his introduction than any of the other High Jump finalists inside Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday night.
“It was really a big surprise,” admitted the winner, after taking the title with a championship record of 2.41m.
“The huge amount of Ukrainian fans, they really helped me a great deal. I think it’s also their medal today. They were really supporting me and cheering for me and they instilled confidence in me.”
On a few occasions, as the scoreboard screen focused on him, he put his finger to his lips good-naturedly, imploring the exuberant crowd to be quiet.
A case could be made that the Ukrainian took an enormous risk by entering the competition at 2.29m then passing at 2.32m even while six others were successful at that height.
His huge first-time clearance at 2.35m was followed by a seemingly inexplicable stunt; he passed at 2.38m.
At that point both Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Canada’s Derek Drouin were still in the hunt with the Qatari making the height on his first attempt while the Canadian beat his own national record with his second try.
However, Bondarenko, it appears, is one cool customer.
Neither of his rivals could go any higher and the gold – appropriately so, as it’s one of the national colours of Ukraine – was all his and he could take a tilt at improving the World record.
Afterwards, he provided insight into his strategy.
“Well my hip was aching five days ago,” he revealed. “I had some problems with my hip when I was jumping. I tried not to put too much pressure on myself. After the qualifications, my feet were also aching that’s why I had to skip so many heights.
“Today I was mostly fighting with the bar, not with the competitors. I was not looking around at my competitors, I was focused on myself.”
After equalling the world-leading mark he recorded in Lausanne on 4 July, he asked the bar to be raised to 2.46m, one centimetre higher than Javier Sotomayor’s 20-year-old World record.
However, fatigue and emotion quashed the three attempts.
Health and hope the issue
“Do I know when I might beat the World record? No, It depends on many factors,” he would say later.
“First of all, on my health. Sometimes you have some small injuries; and then, the performance of other athletes, like the Russians.
“There is always hope to see me beat the record. Maybe it’s too early at this stage of my career to beat Sotomayor’s record. My last (attempt) in London was pretty close too.”
As he looked over at Barshim and Drouin, who shared the podium with him at the traditional post-event press conference, he admitted that missing out on a medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games was an important factor in his successful 2013 season.
“If I had got the bronze medal last year, I wouldn’t have been here,” he said nonchalantly. “I wouldn’t have been so well prepared, I would have relaxed. I wouldn’t have the burning desire to keep training.”
Bondarenko aroused interest for another reason tonight.
Before each jump he laced up a mismatched pair of jumping shoes. On his left he wore a red shoe and on his right a yellow one. And, no he insisted, he had not lost the matching pair.
“I just got the red shoes two days ago but the yellow ones helped me jump 2.41m in Lausanne,” he said laughing. “The red shoes were my size and the yellow one was bigger. But I felt the same pain in both of them. It was just an experiment.”
The 23-year-old, whose birthday is in two weeks’ time, is a student at the Institute of Physical Culture but he has other hobbies he also enjoys.
“I like fishing a lot but lately I haven’t had the time to do it,” he revealed. “Sometimes it’s too cold and you can catch cold and lose your health. I am really a big fan of cars. I follow the latest car makes and I enjoy playing billiards a lot."
With the gold medal now safely in his grasp and his form clearly superior to his nearest rivals, he talks about going forward and upward. The World record is his major target now, and he looks like the first serious challenger to Sotomayor's mark for more than a decade.
“I want to jump 2.46m, there is no question about it,” he declared. “It is a huge goal and huge dream for me. I really wanted to clear 2.46m today.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF