Yaroslav Rybakov of Russia bites his gold medal after winning the High Jump final (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Rybakov finally gets the better of Holm - Moscow

Moscow, RussiaFor archrival Stefan Holm, in the Moscow Olympic arena yesterday it was the 90th time in his career that he went over 2.30m, but it was not a statistic that would trouble the eventual winner from Russia, Yaroslav Rybakov.

Three times in a row now in the World Indoor Championships, the 25-year-old, Belarus-born Rybakov has had to stand by and watch as the more illustrious Swede stood highest on the podium, despite the 17cm difference in their height. First time out in Lisbon, Rybakov was a distant seventh, but then in Birmingham and Budapest he was a tantalising second. This time, though, it was sweet revenge as the 1.98-tall Russian reduced Holm to a distant fifth.

In defeat Holm was graciousness itself, clearly seeing the Russian as worthy of the title: “In my eyes Rybakov was a well-deserved champion. He has taken silver in three indoors championships (European Indoor 2005 was the last) in a row and bronze (Euro Indoors 2002) before that. He was the most consistent and stable right through the competition, 2.37m and a nice try at 2.41.”

An end to the frustration

Whether that makes the Swede history, only time will tell, but at least for Rybakov it is his time in the sun after some frustration. “I won the gold medal at the (outdoor) European championships and now I finally won the World (Indoor) Championships,” he said with some feeling. His relief was understandable. He had tasted victory against Holm before, in the Munich 2002 European Championships, but instead of heralding the beginning of his dominance, it proved a fleeting experience.

Sandwiched as that victory was between a clutch of outdoor silvers, starting at the Edmonton World Championships, continuing through to Paris, and Helsinki, with two World Indoor second places to rub salt in the wound, it was starting to look as though the man was jinxed. But it was last winter where the ground was prepared for last night’s victory when Rybakov went into the Lion’s den and came out with a new Russian record and his confidence sky-high.

It all started in Gothenburg, early February 2005, when Rybakov defeated Holm 2.35 to 2.33. Then on to Stockholm in the middle of the month where with Holm absent through injury and in front of 10,000 spectators the night belonged to Rybakov as he cleared 2.38, a Russian record and the highest anyone had gone for five years. It also placed him equal-seventh on the all-time indoor lists. Added spice was the fact that it was one centimetre better than the Swede’s lifetime best. Though Holm was to respond with 2.40 later in the season, the effect on the Russian’s morale was tangible. Ten days later, with Holm back in harness and in his home town of Karlstad, Rybakov did it again – 2.35 to 2.30.

Family heritage

It is hard to see how Rybakov could have been anything but an athlete, being born, as he was, into a sporting family. His grandmother was a high jumper and his grandfather an all-round sportsman. His mother was a specialist in combined events, while his father is his coach. In the past the son has often complained how hard his father pushes him.

At first he pushed him into the hurdles, though as he grew it would have been more and more difficult to see how he would cope with that. Then came the Long Jump, at which he has a 7.44 best. The High Jump, though, was where the future was to lie.

And so to the second gold medal of his career. But though Holm has taken a background seat for the moment, the Swedish connection may not be over after all. While the Holm-Rybakov score stands at 35 – 5 (ties) – 18 in the Swede’s favour there is more trouble on the horizon. In third yesterday was the unheralded Linus Thörnblad, a brash 21-year-old, a full 18cm shorter than Rybakov, but with all the familiar Holm bounce and aggression. This particular Russian-Swedish feud is far from over.

Michael Butcher for the IAAF