He may be renowned as the most intense competitor in recent athletics history but Sergey Bubka was in relaxed mood as he chatted happily with guests in the lobby of the Doha Sheraton, HQ of Thursday's Qatar International Grand Prix II meeting.
"I look pretty good there," he laughed as he looked through some snap shots taken on a recent fishing trip in Doha Bay, on the Persian Gulf.
Like all true anglers he would have been happy to exaggerate the size of his catch, but the photos made this difficult ... The Czar Sergey seemed glad to face the start of a new season without the pain that had bedevilled him in 1997 - and which had made his victory in Athens all the more dramatic.
"I am really looking forward to 1998 - and I feel good both mentally and physically." One of Bubka's more recent sporting appearances had been for a Charity football match in Monaco organised by Prince Albert.
An enthusiastic soccer player during his youth in the Ukraine, Bubka was nevertheless a bit reluctant to play for the Prince's 11. "The reason was that the first time I played in a Charity Games I scored a few goals but was almost crippled by a terrible tackle. For this reason I was happy to hide behind my team mates this time ... I wanted to be sensible, there are still some things I want to achieve as an athlete."
Bubka was also pleased to note that women would be competing in Doha for the first time and praised the local federation for organising a Workshop "The Growing Role of Women in Sport and Society" - an important step for women's sport in the region.
"As a pole vaulter I remember I was a little sceptical at first when women took up the sport because you need a lot of physical strength to be a vaulter. Yet I have now seen a lot of women vaulters and am really impressed by how they tackle the technical - more gymnastic part of the event. In a recent training weekend with young male and female vaulters (The International Athletic Foundation -Zepter Masterclass) I recall that the best technique was shown by a young woman. So I am completely in favour of giving women the chance in sport."
Nick Davies for the IAAF