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Floe Kühnert – the roundabout way to pole vault glory

Floe Kühnertthe roundabout way to pole vault glory
Gustav Schwenk for the IAAF

19 July 2002 - Many roads lead to sporting success, some of them roundabout. Floé Kühnert, the new world junior champion in pole vault, could write a book about that. Her father had about a decade ago dreamt that his three daughters would become good gymnasts. Katrin (born in 1980), the eldest of them, showed great talent, and was selected to train at the best specialist training centre for gymnasts in Germany, the Kunstturn-Zentrum  in Bergisch-Gladbach near Cologne, 500 kilometres north of her  hometown of Ulm.

Their father Dr. Wolfang Kühnert thus looked for a new post as surgeon near Bergisch-Gladbach. In order to allow Katrin Kühnert to take part in the world championships, the German Gymnastics Federation changed the minimum age from 14 to 13. This is quite something, in a land of strong principles such as Germany.

The gymnastics career of the surgeon’s daughter however did not last long. Katrin became too tall and strong for a sport of waif-like maidens. Luckily, their home was not far from the German athletics training centre in Leverkusen. There she first tried her luck as middle distance runner with coach Paul-Heinz Wellmann (1976 Olympic bronze medallist at 1500m). Then she found out that, as a former gymnast, she had better chances in the pole vault. She started training with Leszek Klima, one of the best pole vault coaches in the world, who had among his group of athletes 6-metre vaulters Tim Lobinger and Daniel Ecker, as well as Michael Stolle (fourth at both the Olympics and World Championships). Katrin soon made the German elite in her event, but is no longer an active athlete.

Pole vault had however become important in the life of the Kühnert family. Younger sister Floé (born 1984) was the youngest German athlete to medal at the first IAAF World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz 1999, taking silver. After some health problems at the start of this year (an inflammation which made her 95% blind from the left eye) Floé cleared 4.41m last week, taking third place in the Junior All Time lists. Her brother Nico (born 1982) won the 2001 German junior championships. Katrin and Floé’s youngest sister, Kim, has also already cleared 3.70m at age 13. And of course an even younger brother has already joined Leszek Klima’s outstanding pole vault group.

Even Sergei Bubka, the six time world champion and 35 times world record holder, was amazed at the Kühnert’s story. Bubka, now an IAAF Council Member is in Kingston as member of the Jury of Appeal, and retains the passion of a former athlete. “It is good when several members of the same family are attracted to the pole vault,” says the IOC Member. He knows something about that. 25 years ago, when “little Sergey” started to train with a new coach away from home, his caring mother sent the older Vassili with him to Donyetsk to take care of his younger brother. A decade later, Sergei and Vassili Bubka took gold and silver at the European Championships in Stuttgart 1986, the only 1-2 by bothers in all 17 editions of the Europeans.